Speedball-2 Dry Ballast System for Maker Faire

Our trip to Maker Faire Detroit 2011 has been filled with many bumps along the way and one of those has been the development of the dry ballast system. Many solutions have been tried and tested, but we finally settled on a jam-free BB dispensing device!

The device works by inserting a dowel rod with a specific pattern of holes perpendicular through the dispensing pipe. A servo with a custom made dowel-to-servo coupler (made with LVL1’s new laser cutter!) spins the dowel rod back and forth at a programmed rate determined by code on a Teensy 2.0, kindly donated by PJRC (http://www.pjrc.com/). As the dowel rod spins, BBs drop into the holes from the top and eventually fall out the bottom as the dowel rod rotates around.

As one could imagine, a major problem with any dry ballast design is jamming. We made two design choices to prevent this. First, we chose to spin the dowel rod back and forth, which prevents pinch jams between the holes and the pipe wall from permanently jamming the device. Second, to prevent bottle neck jams in the pipe, we chose to use a Sprite Zero bottle circa 2011 for its convex bottle neck and to taper the PVC pipe where it meets the bottle in order to create a smooth, fluid funnel.

After several days of testing, the dry ballast system has been successful and is ready to strut its stuff at Maker Faire. Come by the White Star Balloon booth at Maker Faire Detroit 2011 and check out Speedball-2 in action! You’ll be glad you did!

Come one and all to see SpeedBall at MakerFaire Detroit

Take it to Detroit!  LVL1 Hackerspace’s White Star Balloon team is going to be showing off theMakerFaire Detroit Logo SpeedBall balloon system at MakerFaire Detroit, July 30 & 31 at The Henry Ford museum.  We’re super excited to be a part of this great exhibition of doers and makers!
We’ll have the full SpeedBall-1 Trans-Atlantic robot payload (and possibly the balloon) on static display for you to get an up-close peek at what it takes to make a 3-day airship tick.

SpeedBall-2 is slated to make it’s public flight debut at the MakerFaire, (sorry SB-1!) as a lean-mean indoor flying machine.  It’ll be stripped down to the bare necessities required to control it’s altitude – arguably the most important innovation of the whole program.  Consisting of the classic SNOX Ballast bottle, the Flight Computer, the Comm Controller, and the Ballast Controller, the load frame and a small 12v pack of AA batteries, SB-2 will hang from a small custom plastic balloon.

Guided by a vertical cable to keep it from wandering around the museum, SB-2’s balloon it will have a calibrated leak, causing it to slowly sink down, a high-speed simulation of helium loss over a 3-day air voyage.  This will allow you to see the prowess of the ballast system and control algorithm, as it manages ascents, descents, and altitude holds, fully autonomously – look ma, no wires!

We’re working now on putting it all together and testing the demo setup at the LVL1 Hackerspace.  Follow our Twitter @LVL1WhiteStar for up-to-the-minute progress updates.