The STWing-SEAS Blimp Project
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The Blimp Project: A Summary

The Blimp Project is a collaborative effort between students of the Science and Technology Wing and the University of Pennsylvania to build a computer-controlled, lighter-than-air craft for research applications. The project has combined SEAS and other funding with the labor of students from SEAS, SAS, and Wharton to create a remarkable showcase for many research technologies.

History of the Blimp Project

The Blimp Project began with a conversation in the King's Court-English House dining hall in 1998, with the suggestion that “STWing should build a blimp!” The project remained quiescent until January 2000, when Mike Bruni and Ben Tang wrote a formal proposal for airship construction. Planning took place during the summer of 2000, and fundraising began during the year. The blimp was duly ordered and assembled, and first flew under tether on April 7, 2001, in the courtyard of King's Court-English House. Later in the year, further flights occurred in the courtyard and in Hollenback Annex, and the blimp appeared outside Franklin Field for Commencement, despite rainy weather. Since then, a collaboration with Professor James P. Ostrowski of the Engineering School has brought the blimp team into contact with robotics and environmental researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, where the blimp made numerous free flights during the summer of 2001.

Current Projects

As refinement of blimp systems continues, we hope that we will be able to conduct flight operations solely over wireless LAN by February 2002. Collaboration with Carnegie Mellon will continue, and we also hope to provide access for other groups to the blimp as a sensor platform, for applications such as aerial mapping and photography.

We are also pursuing collaborations with the Microsoft Corporation and the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department. Microsoft has taken an interest in the blimp due to our use of its .NET technologies in the blimp software. As part of our partnership, the blimp will appear at the Visual Studio .NET launch event in Chicago on February 13. The LASD is interested in developing a quiet, unmanned drone for providing video communications and observations capabilities during police operations. We look forward to further developing these partnerships in the coming year.