Remote Control Mini Blimp!

Mini blimp flies through hoops! Features 3 DC motors/ propellers, battery charging, and wireless communication.

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This project contains some DC motors, battery charging, sensors and data. I liter of helium lifts 1 gram, so there is a weight constraint in the circuitry. Exciting!

This is a remote control blimp which is controlled by joystick.

One of the things I'll use this for is a blimp obstacle course. 

BlimpLi controller PCB measures approximately 110mm x 35mm and has 4 circuit modules.

  • Wireless communications using WiFi/ ESP8266 
  • Voltage regulator: VBatt (4.2V -3.7V) to 3.3V
  • Motor driver circuit for 3 motors 3.3V, 20mA
  • Battery charging circuit for 1-cell Li-Ion Polymer battery

sch - 373.98 kB - 02/25/2018 at 16:21


brd - 118.66 kB - 02/25/2018 at 16:21



Buck-boost converter replaces Vreg rev2

Adobe Portable Document Format - 1.50 MB - 01/07/2018 at 22:26



Buck-boost converter replaces Vreg rev2 (has bad reputation, might not use)

Adobe Portable Document Format - 147.63 kB - 01/07/2018 at 22:22



Motor Driver rev 2

Adobe Portable Document Format - 300.88 kB - 01/07/2018 at 22:21


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  • 1 × MCP73812 Power Management ICs / Power Supply Support
  • 1 × AP2112 Power Management ICs / Linear Voltage Regulators and LDOs
  • 4 × capacitor 1uF
  • 3 × DC motors

  • Gotchas WTF

    Sophi Kravitz02/09/2018 at 17:50 2 comments

    I designed an intermediary board to test out a new buck-boost voltage regulator, new motor driver, and a tag connect cable. For those of you in the ESPxxx forum, this is v2 intermediary board with EN tied to VBATT.

    Here's the schematic, and the layout.

    I intend to run the board with a single cell Lithium battery no less than 3.6V.

    For testing, I am using a benchtop power supply (adjustable V, 3A) or a wallwart (5V, 1.6A).

    The new voltage regulator, ADP2504, can provide a current output (see diagram on page 6) of over 800mA at VIN 3.6V. The inductor is rated for 700mA. Capacitors are X5R type.

    Screenshot of ADP2504 schematic::

    So far, I have populated the board with the ADP and the ESP-12S.

    These two weird things are happening:

    With power input from benchtop > 4.6V, ESP is able to program and hold the program. Under 4.6V, it is iffy, meaning that the program does not run all the time. Same (expected) results with wallwart at 5V. 

    Current draw after ESP reset is less than 60mA, but sometimes (often at lower voltage) the current draw jumps up to as much as 210mA.

    Does anyone have an idea why this could be happening? 

    UPDATE: benchtop power supply is wonky and gives inconsistent readings, shuts off randomly, and probably puts out  inconsistent power. My best guess is that its constant current output is stuck on something not desirable. I've had it for over 8 years, so....

    To add to the gotchas:

    • New Macbook Pro is incompatible with anything FTDI (seriously WTF)
    • Fluke 16 measures a full 0.1V higher than the benchtop - no clue what is accurate now. 
    • 3VDC wall wart with indecipherable 2008 cell phone end now chopped off puts out something definitely not 3V!
    • Brand new air gun is making a horrible death rattle.


    The ESP8266 can source 12mA on each GPIO pin. Maximum Drive Capability spec page 15.

    Grabbed this from the forums:

    12mA per pin source

    20mA per pin sink

    Total: 12mA x 16 GPIO

  • Intermediate Step:: PCB to test Tag-connect, motor driver, and new buck-boost

    Sophi Kravitz01/15/2018 at 15:02 0 comments

    I decided to go the route of a redesign on a couple of components. It was obvious that the voltage drop in the original voltage regulator was causing the regulator to be a steady 3.3V, especially as the single cell battery dropped below 3.7V. This caused the the ESP to reset occasionally. 

    I've chosen an Analog Devices buck-boost regulator to replace the AP2112. Yes it costs $1.57 more than something else, but this one has a lot of documentation, and is more likely to work the first time.

    After @Ted Yapo commented on my last log, I also realized that the fan motor driver I chose has a high voltage saturation need on the two outputs, limiting the power actually available to the motor itself. I've used fan drivers for other projects and like the simplicity of the part, but I redesigned the board to include an actual brushed motor driver.

    I made a square, somewhat spread-out PCB to test the new features, it's an intermediate step before putting all these new parts on the board and having no space to probe. 

    I sent it off last night to @oshpark's super swift service. It includes:

    • Tag Connect layout! >> this one I'm really excited about
    • New buck-boost >> already realized I forgot to put the thermal vias in
    • New motor driver >> only one, so the the buck-boost won't be getting that hot anyway :)
    • On-off linear switch (replaces annoying momentary)

  • Not enough lift = motor testing Saturday

    Sophi Kravitz01/06/2018 at 18:17 16 comments

    My flight test showed me that my motors didn't have enough lift/ draw enough current/ rotate fast enough. I ordered several motors to test from Uxcell ranging from 13,000 rpms to 40,000 rpms.

    All the motors I bought have rpm ratings + voltage, but no kV rating.

    Motor kV (the rpm constant, not kilovolts) is the relationship between rpm and generated back emf (force). It's defined as the number of revolutions per minute (rpm) that the motor will turn when 1V is applied to the motor with no load. So rpms/ volt.

    A low kV (more winds, thinner wire) will have higher volts/ less amps/ higher torque so it can swing a larger propeller.

    A high kV (less winds, thicker wire) will have low volts/ higher amps/ lower torque for swinging a smaller propeller.

    The blimp is working a lot better. The motors are just not fast enough, nor are the propellers moving enough air to make enough of a difference. I put a 500 mA battery on it which is why now there are 5 balloons needed to hold it up :/ (I am afraid to weigh the gondola now). 

  • First flight

    Sophi Kravitz12/24/2017 at 02:36 7 comments

    Tonight I got all the motors working and attached the blimp's gondola to a big purple cube filled with Helium. 

    There it is! The blimp sort of hovers and falls at the same time despite the motors turning as fast as they can. You can barely feel any lift from the poor little things! I've bought a lot of motors from random places, so now it's going to be time to figure out the right one with the right propeller.

    The motors I'm using pull 230 mA at max speed. The drivers I'm using spec a max of 70 mA, although I'm pulling 110 mA (and no heat, maybe I'm misreading something?). 

    I think the main problem is the battery though. It's one cell, 105 mA, so it just doesn't have enough ooomph. I also haven't measured the inrush current yet... could be that it's just killing the battery in one short second.

    Next steps:
    • Define best possible scenario for battery + motors (GAINING WEIGHT NOOOO)
    • Order new motors
    • Revisit motor drivers
    • Add 2 momentary buttons to controls for up/ down (save joystick for forward/ reverse/ left/ right)

  • Making two ESPs talk. One step closer.

    Sophi Kravitz12/17/2017 at 23:41 4 comments

    Today I connected a Feather (Adafruit's HUZZAH + some other niceties) with a giant red joystick. The joystick switches ON-OFF via 4 microswitches rather than proportional movement. That's OK, the motor drivers I've started out deliver an ON-OFF signal as well. All 4 switches work and have been tested using the onboard LED on the ESP8266 (on the HUZZAH). 

    Working on making one ESP8266 (connected to joystick) talk to the other ESP8266 (connected to motors + blimp).  Found a project on Instructables to get started with. Now the motors are controlled by joystick :)

    There's some massive lag here, not really sure why. 

  • Status: nineteen grams

    Sophi Kravitz12/03/2017 at 23:49 11 comments

    Rev 3 arrived from Oshpark, and most of the hardware issues are fixed. 

    I've had so many comments on how to cut some of the weight- thank you!

    From your suggestions, I've removed the PCB under the antenna, saving a couple of grams. Great idea! 

    I've chosen to keep the battery charging on the PCB. In the final piece, there will be a lot of fast changes and I hate swapping batteries while *doing*other*stuff*. Those tiny battery connectors are a total PITA. A really good idea, but no :)

    PCB changes in this rev:

    • ESP footprint fix
    • New micro USB part with legs that grab into the PCB (thanks to @Voja Antonic for this hint) 
    • Larger diode that I can see the cathode end (picked one that is way too large, it's in the top left next to label C1 :)
    • Battery off switch, which is the wrong part
    • PCB cutout under antenna

    Net: 19.1 grams with everything on the board is exactly 3 grams too heavy. I think this is OK, the programming header won't need to be there in the final (-1.2 grams) and there will likely be some other reduction.

    Changes for next rev:

    • New ESP (ESP-M2 or ESP8285)
    • Pogo pin fixture
    • Slide switch for battery OFF
    • Capacitor footprints should be the same (nitpicking)
    • Silk screen on back for 3rd motor placement
    • 0.8 mm PCB from @oshpark 

    Immediate next steps are getting the communications going. I'm following this most excellent tutorial here

  • PCB on a diet

    Sophi Kravitz11/17/2017 at 20:00 3 comments

    The blimp board that combines ESP, motor controllers, and battery charging is here!

    I assembled this in a few off hours before Supercon without the tools that I'm used to. Tried out a hot air gun for assembly for the first time and I really liked it for removing misplaced components. I think I'll stick with my pancake griddle for faster assembly though :)

    You can see (green area) where I ripped the USB port off the PCB and the traces too... a friend fixed it by adding a piece of the board he was working on to mine. <3

    I am going to redesign using a micro USB with legs so it doesn't fall off. 

    Also, the board is a bit overweight, but only by a few grams. I will have to see how I can reduce.

  • Rev 2 (posting for @davedarko)

    Sophi Kravitz10/31/2017 at 03:22 4 comments

    Here's a rendering of the new design. Might lose some of the diagnostic LEDs before sending it out. (Yes, I lost 2 LEDs before sending it to @oshpark ).

    Not really sure the best way to layout the the antenna in an OK place?

  • Boards are back, loaded, tested.

    Sophi Kravitz10/29/2017 at 18:48 17 comments

    I am in an extremely good mood. The board works with only one minor (haha) issue.

    It's overweight at minimum by 6.2 grams. For the volume of helium I'm thinking about using, the gondola can weigh no more than 14gr.

    I did the super swift service from @oshpark  - ordered on Monday, had boards back on Saturday. Boards look nice, I'd forgotten to put in a pull up resistor (charge light doesn't light) and there's that weight issue, but otherwise, pretty happy. The ESP8266 is not designed in yet, it's just on the scale to be weighed.


    • Shave ~6 grams off of PCB.
    • Investigate diode on Vreg (drop is too high)
    • Add pull up resistor to PIN CE
    • Make connection points for batt and motors thru-hole

  • Propeller Sizing

    Sophi Kravitz10/24/2017 at 13:21 0 comments

    I'm looking at propellers today. I've sourced a tiny DC motor, which I'm running without proportional controls because I cannot tell the difference in speed at 3.3V. Also the motor driver I chose allows only for ON/ OFF operation. Seems like proportional controls give extra complication without much benefit. 

    Hobby propellers have two markings, the first one is the diameter size that it makes while spinning, the second one is pitch.

    The pitch controls the speed of the propeller. A higher numbered pitch means that the blade cuts faster into the air, and moves the aircraft faster. 

    The following is taken from RC Airplane world: the two arrow lines represent the path of each propeller tip. You can see that the higher pitch prop (eg 10x8) takes only one and a half turns to cover the same distance that the lower pitch prop (eg 10x4) takes 3 turns to. So, with both engines and props spinning at identical RPM, the higher pitch prop will travel further in the same amount of time - hence a faster flying plane.

    Thrust is the force needed to push the blimp through the air. The diameter of the propeller is related to this. The larger the diameter of the propeller, the slower the motor will run, the harder it will work, and more thrust will be created. 

View all 13 project logs

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Sophi Kravitz wrote 12/11/2017 at 03:55 point

I KNOW! Aren't they cool? :)

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Anool Mahidharia wrote 12/04/2017 at 05:57 point

The battery charging circuit is dead weight to carry. Why not keep it separate/external ?

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Sophi Kravitz wrote 12/04/2017 at 20:33 point

Hey Anool! I anticipate a lot of quick changes, so I want the battery to stay on the board. 

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Anool Mahidharia wrote 12/05/2017 at 06:42 point


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Sophi Kravitz wrote 10/22/2017 at 22:05 point

:) I'm excited too, I think making the circuit light enough to float is going to be tough!

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Anil Pattni wrote 10/22/2017 at 20:35 point

This is so cool, I've been wanting to make a R/C blimp for the longest time. :)

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