Alavs Flocking Blimp Whales at Art Center College of Design

Jed Berk, an MFA student over at Art Center College of Design, graciously offered to show us Alavs (Autonomous Lighter Than Air Vehicles) — the flocking blimp project he and his colleague Nikhil Mitter have been working on. The blimps are kitted out with a small SunSpot — 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:

Video documentation is here:



Why do I blog this? Really well-thought out and executed project! There’s more on Phil Van Allen‘s blog — he facilitated and taught the class. Also, Regine has recently blogged it here.

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