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New Zealand's longest-running online daily news and commentary publication, now in its 24th year. The opinion pieces presented here are not purported to be fact but reasonable effort is made to ensure accuracy.

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About that science stuff

4 May 2018

Just a little update on the status of my aerial video free balloon project.

Despite a few days of crappy and windy weather, the project is coming along very nicely and I now have four videos done and posted to YouTube.

Finally (sigh), I released a test balloon yesterday which rapidly disappeared into the heavens over Tokoroa -- albeit sans payload, since this was simply a verification of the H2 production and a method of checking that the practical effect of hydrogen matched the science when calculating lifting abilities.

Fortunately, the science was 100% on the money so it's looking good for a full deployment next week.

The next video will shift from the subject of chemistry to that of electronics.

I'll be showing how to set up the payload (a camera and video transmitter) to run off a small lithium battery. You might thing that this would be quite straight forward but when you consider that a lithium battery only delivers about 4V and the camera requires 12V, you can see the challenge.

So I'll be attempting to design and build a voltage tripler using an 555 timer circuit with a few diodes and capacitors. This might work, it might not.

If the camera draws too much current then the weight of the voltage tripler may actually be greater than the overhead of just adding a couple of extra lithium cells... but we'll see. That's the fun part about a project like this -- you don't know what's going to work until you try it. I think this is also part of the charm and attraction for others... they get to see the planning, design and decision-making process in action.

To be honest, the Net is littered with DIY projects that simply provide a series of instructions on how to build something but very few of these projects also include the underlying work and the countless "fails" that occurred before success was finally achieved. By simply letting folk watch over my shoulder, I think it personalises the whole thing to a far greater degree and better encourages others to experiment for themselves and accept that occasional failures are the inevitable consequences of attempting anything new and different.

And, let's face it, failure can be fun.

So hopefully, by the end of next week, we'll have a new alternative to drones, Google Earth and satellite mapping. It'll be the hydrogen trash-bag "camera in the sky" which anyone can make and deploy for a quite low cost.

Oh dear, I can imagine the outcries from:

  • privacy advocates
  • environmentalists
  • regulators
  • politicians
  • the great unwashed

and all the others who are constantly on the look-out for some excuse to become outraged.

However, if this project instills a passion for science, experimentation and learning in just one person, I will consider my mission to have been achieved.

Stay tuned, more to come on this.

And, if you have any ideas for future "fun learning" videos, let me know, I'd love to do it all again with a different challenge.

Project video playlist

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