More than ten years ago Chris Anderson, co-founder and CEO of 3DR, and associates built and released something that was way ahead of its time, and was arguably was one of the most important pre-cursors to most modern hobbyist quad-copters and drones. The product spawned imitators and a sprawling community around itself. It was called the Blimpduino.
A low cost, and open source, kit that let you build an autonomous blimp the original Blimpduino consisted of an Arduino-based blimp controller board with onboard infrared and ultrasonic sensors, along with a simple gondola with two vectoring (tilting) differential thrusters.
Predictably, the new Blimpduino 2 only superficially resembles the original Blimpduino kit. It benefits from what Chris Anderson has called “the peace dividend of the smart phone war,” arguing that a lot of the tools and technologies we use today as makers are cheaply available only because of the scaling needed to produce modern smartphones saying that, “when giants battle we all win.”
“…back then I mean that we lacked cheap WiFi modules, 3D printers, and all sorts of fancy sensors! This leads us to use pieces of wood, repurposed legos parts, expensive R/C tech, bulky/heavy motors, and even a huge 2-cell lipo battery that required a charger with a balancer.
Now I’m very glad to announce the developer release of Blimpduino 2, a joined collaboration between mRo and JJRobots (One of the founders is Jose Julio, remember him? He created one of the first codes for quadcopters using Ardupilot 1 hardware). Well, Blimpduino 2 is nothing compared to what we released 10 years ago…” — Jordi Muñoz
The new Blimpduino 2 board is based around a Microchip ARM Cortex-M0 and an STMicroelectronics VL53L1 laser altimeter, with wireless provided by an onboard ESP8266.
The board itself is capable of controlling up to four motors, and two additional servos. Although the kit ships with three ultra-light brushless motors, the type normally used on micro-drones.
Offering several hardware I2C and serial ports, the board also has an OpenMV camera connector, although the included blimp envelope would not offer enough payload capacity for you to mount an OpenMV camera board on your gondola.
The board comes with a number of sensors, fall out from the smart phone war, including a 3-axis gyroscopes, an accelerometer, a magnetometer (an InvenSense MPU9250), and a pressure/temperature sensor which could be used as a backup altimeter for higher altitudes.
The processor on the board is Arduino-compatible, and the open sourced Arduino code is available in the project’s GitHub repo. Although if Python is your language of choice, then you can also program the board using Python and example code is available.
“[The Blimpduino 2 is a] fully hackable, re-purposable and customizable platform. Aimed to quickly entertain experienced engineers/scientist by allowing them to tweak the platform quickly, but most importantly is the perfect platform to teach young minds and expose them to programming, micro-controllers, UDP, PWM, simple PIDs and/or more advanced hardware/software technologies.” — Jordi Muñoz
The new Blimpduino 2 kit is available from JJRobots and costs £75. The kit includes a pre-soldered control board and fixing bolts, three brush-less motors, four 45mm propellers, and 300mAh LiPo battery. If you include an optional larger balloon envelope, 3d printed gondola, along with a larger 500mA LiPo battery, the cost of the of the kit comes to just over £92.