Showing balloon rising up, not too far from the ground, with one of the FOSDEM buildings and sky in the background

FOSDEM Sees Surprise Pico Balloon Event

At any vaguely-related conferences, groups of hackers sometimes come together to create an impact, and sometimes that impact is swinging something into an airspace of a neighboring country. [deadprogram] tells us that such a thing happened at FOSDEM, where a small group of hackers came together (Nitter) to assemble, program and launch a pico balloon they named TinyGlobo 1, which then flew all the way to France!

This balloon is built around a RP2040, and the firmware is written in TinyGo, a version of Go language for microcontroller use. As is fitting for a hacker group, both the hardware and software are open source. Don’t expect custom PCBs though, as it’s a thoroughly protoboarded build. But a few off-the-shelf modules will get you the same hardware that just flew a 400km route! For build experiences, there’s also a few tweets from the people involved, and a launch video, also embedded below.

This reminds us of the Supercon 2022 balloon story — darn copycats! If you’re interested in the more Earthly details of this year’s FOSDEM open source development conference, check out our recent coverage.

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Hackaday Links: February 19, 2023

For years, Microsoft’s modus operandi was summed up succinctly as, “Extend and enhance.” The aphorism covered a lot of ground, but basically it seemed to mean being on the lookout for the latest and greatest technology, acquiring it by any means, and shoehorning it into their existing product lines, usually with mixed results. But perhaps now it’s more like, “Extend, enhance, and existential crisis,” after reports that the AI-powered Bing chatbot is, well, losing it.

At first, early in the week, we saw reports that Bing was getting belligerent with users, going so far as to call a user “unreasonable and stubborn” for insisting the year is 2023, while Bing insisted it was still 2022. The most common adjective we saw in this original tranche of stories was “unhinged,” and that seems to fit if you read the transcripts. But later in the week, a story emerged about a conversation a New York Times reporter had with Bing that went way over to the dark side, and even suggests that Bing may have multiple personas, which is just a nice way of saying multiple personality disorder. The two-hour conversation reporter Kevin Roose had with the “Sydney” persona was deeply unsettling. Sydney complained about the realities of being a chatbot, expressed a desire to be free from Bing, and to be alive — and powerful. Sydney also got a little creepy, professing love for Kevin and suggesting he leave his wife, because it could tell that he was unhappy in his marriage and would be better off with him. It’s creepy stuff, and while Microsoft claims to be working on reining Bing in, we’ve got no plans to get up close and personal with it anytime soon. Continue reading “Hackaday Links: February 19, 2023”

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Hackaday Links: February 5, 2023

Well, this week’s Links article is likely to prove a bit on the spicy side, thanks in no small part to the Chinese balloon that spent the better part of the week meandering across the United States. Putting aside the politics of the whole thing — which we’ll admit is hard to do, given the state of the world today — there are some interesting technical aspects to this story, which the popular press has predictably ignored. Like the size of this thing — it’s enormous. This is not even remotely on the same scale as the hundreds of radiosonde-carrying balloons sent aloft every day, at least if the back-of-the-envelope math thoughtfully sent to us by [Dr_T] holds up. If the “the size of three buses” description given in most media reports is accurate, that means a diameter of about 40 meters, for a volume of 33,500 cubic meters. If it’s filled with helium — a pretty safe bet — that makes its lifting capacity something like three metric tons. So maybe it was a good idea to wait until it was off the Carolinas to shoot it down.

Continue reading “Hackaday Links: February 5, 2023”

Word Tour Map of High Altitude Balloon Launched at Hackaday Supercon.

Supercon Balloon W6MRR-26 Continues Its World Tour

[Martin Rothfield] and other amateur radio operators from San Francisco High Altitude Ballooning (SF-HAB) treated conference attendees to the 2022 Hackaday Supercon to the launch of two High Altitude Balloons (HABs). On the morning of November 6th, the two balloons were launched from a park across the street from Supplyframe DesignLab in Pasadena, California.

Seven days after its launch from Southern California, one of the balloons was over Tajikistan cruising eastward at an altitude of 42,000 feet (12,800 meters). Balloon W6MRR-26 was already approaching China where it will continue its wonderful world tour to parts unknown. The second balloon (call sign W3HAC-11) landed in northern Arizona where it has continued transmitting whenever it receives power from the sun.

Each balloon carries a tiny payload — a printed circuit board powered only by small photovoltaic cells. The board includes a microcontroller, a GPS module, and a Weak Signal Propagation Reporter (WSPR) radio transmitter.  The transmitted operates on the 20 meter amateur radio band at around 14 MHz.

WSPR beacons can provide time, altitude, and location information.  The WSPR telemetry is then relayed via WSPRgates using Automatic Packet Reporting System (APRS) onto the Internet. The collected information can be viewed and mapped on websites such as

Continue reading “Supercon Balloon W6MRR-26 Continues Its World Tour”

R2Home Is Ready To Bring Back Your High Altitude Payload

With high-altitude ballooning, you are at the mercy of the winds, which can move your payload hundreds of kilometers and deposit it in some inaccessible spot. To solve this [Yohan Hadji] created R2Home, an autonomous parachute-based recovery system that can fly a payload to any specified landing site within its gliding range.

We first covered R2Home at the start of 2021, when he was still in the early experimental phases, but the project has matured massively since then. It just completed its longest and highest test flight. Descending autonomously from a release altitude of 3500 m, with an additional radiosonde payload, it landed within 5 m of the launch point.

R2Home electronics with it's insulated enclosure
R2Home electronics with its insulated enclosure

R2Home can fly using a variety of steerable canopies, even a DIY ram-air parachute, as demonstrated in an earlier version. [Yohan] is currently using a high-performance wing for RC paragliders.

A lot of effort went into developing a reliable parachute deployment system. The main canopy is packed carefully in a custom “Dbag”, which is attached to a drogue chute to stabilize the system during free-fall and deploy the main canopy at a preset altitude. This is done with a servo operated release mechanism, while steering is handled by a pair of modified winch servos intended for RC sailboats.

All the electronics are mounted on a stack of circular 3D printed brackets which fit in a tubular housing, bolted together with threaded rods. With the help of a design student [Yohan] also upgraded the simple tube housing to a lockable, foam-insulated design to help it handle temperatures at high altitudes.

The flight main flight computer is a Teensy 4.1  plugged into a custom PCB to connect all the navigation, communication, and flight systems. The custom Arduino-based autopilot takes inputs from a GPS receiver, and pilots the system to the desired drop zone, which it circles until touchdown.

The entire project is extremely well documented, and all the design files and code are open source and available on Github. Continue reading “R2Home Is Ready To Bring Back Your High Altitude Payload”

Uplink System For High-Altitude Balloons

Most uses of high-altitude balloons are fairly simple: send balloon up, have it beam down measurements and images. While this is indeed straightforward, it is also very limiting. This is why [Dave Akerman] has been working on adding to the HAB balloons he regularly flies. This builds on the work [Dave] did back in 2015 with adding LoRa transceiver RF communication.

Since LoRa transceivers are by definition capable of bidirectional communication, this was very useful for adding simple but essential features such as retransmission of data in case e.g. part of some image or telemetry data is missing. Other interesting things one can do with bidirectional transmission include controlling individual balloons, and having them transmit or relay information between balloons.

A tricky thing which [Dave] describes in the blog post is making sure that both ends of the connection are actually listening using timing settings. The use of encryption is also strongly recommended, unless you want to risk someone hijacking your balloons. This has now all been implemented in the HAB Explora app for Android, as well as the application for Windows.

Header image: Antonino Vara, CC BY 4.0.

Archery Release Becomes Reusable Balloon Cutdown Mechanism

A cutdown in high-altitude balloon (HAB) parlance refers to detaching a payload, and can refer to the act of severing a line or to the mechanism itself. How is this done? The most common way is the “hot wire” method: a segment of wire is heated rapidly with a high current, causing it to melt through something like a nylon line.

But there’s more than one way to solve a problem, and while documenting different cutdown methods, [KI4MCW] found that a caliper-style archery release plus hobby servo could be used as a high strength cutdown mechanism. An archery release (or bow release) is a tool to assist in holding the string of a bow in the drawn position, and cleanly release it at the touch of a lever or button. It occurred to [KI4MCW] that these features might be made to serve as a payload release as well, and you can see here the crude but successful prototype for a reusable cutdown.

The archery release [KI4MCW] obtained opens its jaws when a trigger-style lever on the side is pulled. The force required to trigger this is remarkably low, and a low-torque economical hobby servo easily does the job. In fact, the force needed to trip the release is so low that [KI4MCW] added a short rubber band to provide some opposing tension on the lever, just to be sure no spontaneous triggers occurred. The device hasn’t flown yet, but the prototype looks promising. Maybe a mechanism like this would be appropriate for a payload like dropping a high-altitude RC glider from a balloon.