Building the motor drivers

Posted in Hardware at 8:06 pm by Tessa

We went to an electronics shop and collected a whole bunch of resistors, diodes, wires and off course enough IC’s to drive three motors. We constructed the motor drivers on the PCB as small as possible because we always have to consider the weight that our blimp can lift, and we did not take this piece of electronics into account when we measured and weighed the on board electronics. First we made it possible to drive one motor, because we wanted to test our construction and it worked! So we have good faith that we can drive three motors before this day ends! Meanwhile a lot of work has also been done in the software domain. Zeppy’s brain can already detect faces, see motion and determine optical flow. We can not wait to couple the software to our hardware platform and see what Zeppy does!

Home built motor drivers:

Home built motor drivers

Motor driver connected to the Gumstix, battery and motor:



Way small computing.

Posted in Hardware at 12:22 pm by Tessa

Today, our Gumstix arrived. This is a very very small computer which weighs only 9 grams. We are going to use it on board to drive the motors and maybe later even to do all the processing and make Zeppy really autonomous! Our first challenge with the Gumstix was to activate the Bluetooth, so that we could access our small computer. Some wires had to be soldered to the little machine, which was very exciting, fortunately the third time they were on the right pins! Now that we could access the Gumstix, we could try to drive some motors with them, but unfortunately it was impossible to do this directly with the Gumstix, which we had expected. The outputs could not provide our motors with enough power, therefore we have to insert motor drivers into the circuit.



Soldering a motor:

Soldering a motor


Calculate and build

Posted in Hardware at 5:57 pm by Tessa

After we mistakenly made a balloon that was far too big for our purposes, we decided make a detailed calculation first. Now, we know exactly how big our blimp has to be in order to be able to lift the electronics we need. So, again we sealed the balloon and filled it with helium. Zeppy flies again! But still, we are not quite happy with the quality of the hardware we now have, so we are going to use Gumstix to control the motors and try to find better motors and rotors.


Zeppy version HUGE!

Posted in Hardware at 2:56 pm by Tessa

During our measuring day we found out that we needed a bigger balloon to be able to carry more weight on our blimp, so we bought ourselves some plastic, borrowed a deep-freeze sealer and made our new Zeppy. We used some aquarium supplies to build an air-valve and filled the new balloon with all the helium we had left, which was not enough unfortunately. This was not due to our helium provision, but to the size of the new Zeppy, which was BIG, really HUGE! We really made a miscalculation with the design of this new balloon, because it could lift more than 500 gr (+/- 1000 lbs), which is much more than we need. When we tried to move this balloon with our original gondola and motors nothing happened, as could be expected. The controls were not strong enough for this enormous balloon. So, our huge version of Zeppy only lived a short life and had to make place for another blimp.

Sealing the new balloon:

Sealing the new balloon

Air-valve made from aquarium supplies and duct-tape:


Almost completely helium filled super blimp:

Blimp huge


Measuring day

Posted in Hardware at 4:35 pm by Tessa

To explore the limitations of our flying friend, we spend the whole day measuring. First we wanted to know the lift of our balloon. The physics department of the university was so kind to lend us their spring scales so we could weigh every component very precisely. We removed all unnecessary objects from the gondola and were able to spare 15 grams, which seems nothing, but is actually quite a lot in Zeppy world! But still, the battery of the camera we want to attach to the gondola, is too heavy, so we have to get a bigger balloon and a more weight-efficient power supply. After this, we measured the range between the transmitter and receiver. We needed a big room, because our building has its stanchions and window-frames all made of metal, which obstructs the connection with Zeppy. So, when it flies through a door opening, the connection is immediately lost. The corridor was a good spot, because this is a very high space. The range was approximately 10 meters, which is not enough, so we have to find a way to make the signal stronger.

Weighing the gondola:


Matthijs controlling Zeppy in the corridor:


Going up in the corridor:



Laptop controlled blimp

Posted in Hardware at 3:26 pm by Tessa

Today, we made it possible to control Zeppy with our laptop instead of the remote. To be able to do this, we had to mutilate the remote and solder the poor thing to a brand new relais board we bought for this purpose. This relais board could be connected to the laptop with usb. Now Zeppy flies on the instructions of simple keyboard pressings!

Jaldert busy soldering:


Admiring the relais board:


Laptop controlled Zeppy:



Meet Zeppy!

Posted in Hardware at 12:21 pm by Tijs

About a month ago, we received our little toy-blimp!

We first went to a local diving-shop ‘de tuimelaar’ to fill the blimp with a little helium.

Meet Zeppy! : :)

Blimp baloon

With very cheap-looking controlls:


Which were to be paired with each other, with nothing but sticky-tape:

Assembling Zeppy

Only remote-controlled, and far from anything robotic, but still a lot of fun!

More material at: http://tumblecow.net/blimp/



Posted in General at 2:30 pm by Tessa

Hi! Let us introduce ourselves: we are four master students from the AI department of the University of Groningen and we just started a very cool project! On this Blog you can read everything about how we are going to transform a toy blimp into an autonomous flying robot! Feel free to post comments and useful tips.

Jaldert, Tessa, Tijs & Matthijs