Jed Berk, an MFA student over at Art Center College of Design, graciously offered to show us Alavs (Autonomous Lighter Than Air Vehicles) â€” the flocking blimp project he and his colleague Nikhil Mitter have been working on. The blimps are kitted out with a small SunSpot â€” a Sun made sensor platform with some processing power, accelerometers and uses 2.4GZ multi-channel 802.15.4 radios.
Enabling JavaTM for Small Wireless Devices with Squawk and SpotWorld is a paper published on using SunSpots. Evidently there’s a new version of the device in the works with additional robust functionality.
The blimps have behaviors that include indicating that they are hungry. They bellow a call that’s evocative of whale calls. (A cellphone vibrator is attached to the helium filled envelope. Sound travels faster and with peculiar resonance when it propogates through a mylar envelope filled with helium, so it’s quite a resonant call. Each is somewhat unique.)
You feed the blimps (all of which are named, although I don’t recall them), using a feeding sculpture composed of a fiber optic bristle that vibrates and blinks when the blimp is feeding. A trailing LED on the blimp goes from blue to red when it’s done chowing down. It then goes on its way.
More images are here: