BlimpBot Foiled by Air Conditioning

Posted on March 4, 2008  Comments (0)

TED BlimpBot Report: Foiled by Air Conditioning!

I had a three-minute slot to show how the prototype works. This was a pretty high-stake demo, since not only would there be 2,000 of the most influential people in the technology, entertainment and design (TED) worlds watching, but they included Al Gore in the FRONT ROW, Google’s Sergey Brin and Larry Page and movie stars such as John Cusack and Goldie Hawn.

The bot worked great in the hotel room, and then we took it the the auditorium during a break to test it on the main stage. Yikes. We were getting IR interference from everything, from LCD screens to the bright stage lights, and our reception range dropped to something around three feet. Even worse, the air currents were overcoming the blimp’s ability to fight them. So we gave up on the idea of a fixed IR beacon on the ground, and I decided to hold it in my hand to keep it near the blimp. Even then, the motors couldn’t fight the currents well enough.
So we rushed back to our staging area (my hotel room) and Jordi updated the firmware to give more power to the motors even at the cost of battery life (this demo only had to run three minutes) . We tested it again in the hotel room, it worked fine, and then it was time to go.

It turns out that one big thing had changed since our test run in the auditorium: 600 people had arrived. All that body heat had raised the temperature of the room, kicking in the air conditioning, which came out of huge ducts right over the stage. Basically I was under a raging waterfall of cold air, and the poor blimp sank right to the floor, its little vertical thruster completely overcome.

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