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Automated Office Delivery with Helium Blimps 165

Blimp Dude writes "Anyone who likes blimps might want to check out this automated blimp delivery service built by some guy at HP Labs. I personally think this is the future... Now I want WebBlimp to deliver groceries directly to my 29th floor apartment window."
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Automated Office Delivery with Helium Blimps

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  • yeah... (Score:5, Funny)

    by LBArrettAnderson ( 655246 ) on Wednesday March 19, 2003 @10:32PM (#5549558)
    now we can go looking in trees for our paycheck
  • ...I'm sure the blimps will run Squeak, and move a lot slower.
  • by blincoln ( 592401 ) on Wednesday March 19, 2003 @10:35PM (#5549575) Homepage Journal
    If you, like me, are tired of having to manually deliver documents or other items within your office building, and if your building has high ceilings, good lighting, and minimal air currents, then you will inevitably reach the same conclusion I have: An automatic helium blimp delivery service.

    Okay Helium Jim Jones, whatever you say. Just don't send any Kool-Aid my way.
  • by mat catastrophe ( 105256 ) on Wednesday March 19, 2003 @10:35PM (#5549576) Homepage

    For God's sake! The disasters this could cause! Remember the Hindenberg!!!!

  • Hmmmm (Score:5, Funny)

    by baldass_newbie ( 136609 ) on Wednesday March 19, 2003 @10:35PM (#5549577) Homepage Journal
    Wake me when they come up with a 'Lawn Dart' delivery system.
    Now THAT would be useful.
    All kidding aside, though, cute, but how useful would this be?

    • Your lawn dart delivery system reminds me of a similar system that *has* seen a decent amount of use -- the "wrap document around brick and hurl through plate glass window" delivery method...

      Anyway, he didn't really build this thing because it's the best way to deliver a document... haven't you ever built anything just for fun, because you could?

      I wrote a little text-to-speech converter once entirely in HTML and JavaScript, using the word pronunciations at Merriam-Webster Online [m-w.com]. Naturally it was horribl
      • That's just a subset of the hurling things through a window - much better to wrap the letter around a block of ice (it melts you see, causing confusion and merriment) or a frozen lasagne (or dish of your choice) which becomes unfrozen (unless you throw it into a freezer, which would be odd) and thus causes the required hilarity.

        Throwing a thawed, frozen lasagne is plain silly and should be avoided. In part because it's quite hard to tie a letter to a soggy lsasgne. Maybe if it's al dente you might get away
  • the baloon should be filled with hydrogen and painted with highly flammable red paint. -eek
  • by dnoyeb ( 547705 ) on Wednesday March 19, 2003 @10:38PM (#5549592) Homepage Journal
    Unfortunately The Pentagon turned off the GPS as the coffee destined for a buddy across the room passed over the bosses lap...

    First victim claimed.
  • Save the server! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Sanity ( 1431 ) on Wednesday March 19, 2003 @10:38PM (#5549593) Homepage Journal
    The movie is cool, but if everyone grabs it from the web server, I doubt it will last long, so please grab it from Freenet [freenetproject.org] rather than getting them from the website. I have mirrored it here [] (install [freenetproject.org] and run Freenet before clicking on the link):
    • Funky link (Score:4, Funny)

      by donscarletti ( 569232 ) on Thursday March 20, 2003 @02:39AM (#5552429)
      I have mirrored it here []

      You have not mirrored it on, I checked the link and nothing... I am so annoyed that I am going to set the slapper worm on the http server on that IP, yes is going to die!

      Why the heck is my system going mental? Why is my net slowing down? What's happening, is counter attacking me? That does it I am going to DOS that server and see what it does to me! Right N.........

      • Re:Funky link (Score:4, Informative)

        by kix ( 24024 ) on Thursday March 20, 2003 @04:54AM (#5553272) Homepage
        ok, maybe I just have a really bad sense of humor, but whatever.

        the link is actually correct, once you've installed freenet on your machine. in fact, all requests to freenet point to, there's a daemon that creates a server listening on that port, that goes and downloads the content and feeds it back to your web-browser. it's pretty damn cool actually :)

  • by Zebbers ( 134389 ) on Wednesday March 19, 2003 @10:39PM (#5549596)
    while i give kudos for having fun building something neat, this hardly seems that slashdot worthy. it can barely carry a postit note and the guy himself basically says its not usable.

    again, i appreciate the try but the article itself wasnt any fun or insightful to read and the accomplishment wasnt too impressive. the most interesting part was using the red and blue to judge orientation and the size to judge distance. i thought that was neat, but not very practical of course.

    i expected a somewhat usable system, maybe tweaks needed to the guidance systems. but it cant even carry a piece of paper...........
    • and on another note do the editors ever read the articles to see if they are indeed that interesting?
      or even the fucking submitters...
      i mean, it cant carry a postit but you want blimps delivering your groceries...interesting
    • Yes but this is proof of concept. Imagine how much more it could carry if only the mylar came in the specified color pattern, and didn't need paint (which tends to be VERY heavy). This was also a cheep hobby blimp, I can't imagine they used ultralite parts. YOu could of course always resort to Hydrogen (I wouldn't recomend it) and gain additional capacity that way. Also, if it was shapped more like a typical blimp you see at a sporting event, it would be much easier to navigate, but then the math re the

  • blimps for deliveries? Oh the humanity!

  • Full circle (Score:2, Interesting)

    by 0x4B ( 214493 )
    Its amazing the things we give up over time, and later decide we want.
    I don't think I've ever been into a contemporary home with a dumb-waiter in it. And how about vacuum tube devlivery: totally relegated to banks (and Home Depot). Yeah, sure, email is taking everything over. But when you really need a signature on something, vacuum tubes rock. Installing vacuum tubes through my house, now that's the kinda large scale project that I want to wast my time on.
    • you know how AWESOME a blimp cruise line would be? sailing peacfully over land would be terrific - the scenery would be better than 'endless' seas of waves. Although you couldnt build the same amenities(sp) into a AirShip (pools, casinos, yadda) - I imagine a really surreal healthspa, live music (stings/horns/wind), booze(drugs) and terrific food would be enough to get me to go.

      Why did the Hindenburg disaster freak people out so badly? It had nothing to do w/ risk in Airships (as weve learned) it had t
  • Something similar. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SatanicPuppy ( 611928 ) <SatanicpuppyNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Wednesday March 19, 2003 @10:40PM (#5549604) Journal
    We set up a blimp with a webcam that trolled through the office on a set path (even had a little guide string across the ceiling). Nothing fancy or autonomous.

    We scrapped it after the first week because of two major flaws:

    1) It was annoying as hell. (*HUMMMMMMMMMM* *Feeling of eyes on the back of neck*)
    2) Our customers started hitting our website to see if we were actually working. ("I don't know Bob, that sure looks like he's playing solitare to me...")

    The second flaw eventually metamorphosed into a new plan involving a looped tape and 15 minutes of real work, which had to be scrapped as unbelievable.

    Ahhhh, the glory days.
  • by 7-Vodka ( 195504 ) on Wednesday March 19, 2003 @10:41PM (#5549609) Journal
    Man, put in some tracks on the ceiling and put an electric engine with good torque and attach a robotic arm to it. Much heavier things could be delivered at 40mph or faster :)

    Don't these guys watch monster garage? wimps!

    Just kidding it's pretty and I liked the music.

    No wait, now i'm just kidding :)

    • More to the point, having a system like those games with a robotic claw to grab stuffed animals can be sold to management quite easily.

      Imagine how much real estate you can save by eliminating hallways! Just use the claw to grab employees by the neck and deposit them in their cubicles. Each cubicle can have four walls and no doors, since the workers are dropped into place.

      Also, the employees can be kept at their deks for a full eight hours of work! Simply shut down the claw during normal business hour

  • Nice to know that HP's got the garage inventor thing still going on. Excellent progress. Especially considering the competition: ASIMO [honda.com]? Who wants a personal robot and not a blimp delivery service?

    - This is supposed to be a poke at U.S. R&D.
  • precursor to the IM (instant message)?

  • I guess now would be the time to mention that helium, unlike hydrogen, is not flammable?

  • (We) unfortunately found that one sheet of paper is too heavy for the blimp to lift reliably

    Anything usefull that has to be transferred as paper is going to be much larger than a Post-It-Note, so how large must this thing be?

    Would filling it with hydrogen instead help? I would love to see a Hindenburg go down at my office...
    • Re:wimpy blimp (Score:4, Informative)

      by Sparr0 ( 451780 ) <sparr0@gmail.com> on Wednesday March 19, 2003 @11:34PM (#5550147) Homepage Journal
      The problem is not actually the actual weight of the paper, its the weight of the paper relative to the power of the vertical motor/prop. The blimp itself might be capable of lifting 20g (thats grams, not gravities) of payload but if you actually balance the ballast with that much payload in mind then as soon as you take the payload off the blimp will immediately stick to the ceiling, unable to pull itself down. The limitation on variable payload is entirely in the capacity of the vertical thrust. You could, in theory, have a variable payload limit almost equal to the vertical thrust and then balance the ballast so that with no payload full down-thrust just barely descends, and with a full payload full up-thrust just barely lifts, but that would be EXTREMELY wasteful of power/fuel (yes, you can build a blimp this small that runs on fuel powered motors). So, in practice, your payload is limited to just under the vertical thrust, so with no payload you have neutral buoyancy and with full payload it takes almost full thrust to maintain a hover.
  • Feel free to contact me about this or anything else. I'm a friendly guy.

    Not after being slashdotted, spam-listed, and trolled with a million "you're a dweeb!" or "could you send me detailed instructions and hold my hand while i try to duplicate this please?" messages he won't be. Slashdot fame chases the friendliness out of the friendliest nerd. ;-P
  • He should make the code available, this looks pretty cool, although I can see how it would be tricky to compensate for wind, gusts etc. I would love to know if he did anything smart with timing decelerations and such-like. I have one of these blimps, and generally the best way to navigate is to pulse the motors to adjust velocity and direction.

    Lots of potential here for intelligent control of the blimp, but no evidence that he tried any of that.

  • "That's great, son, but what is it good for?"
    The time eventually came when I felt ready to try delivering something. I had originally hoped to deliver documents (i.e., sheets of paper) but unfortunately found that one sheet of paper is too heavy for the blimp to lift reliably (I was serious when I said the helium doesn't provide much lift). I settled for a Post-it Note.
    Manager's Approval Required
  • First off, this is probably going to have to be regulated very heavily -- imagine the havok this could wreak if used for illegal commerce.

    Also, people will probably be shooting them out of the sky in order to steal the contents. Much easier than jacking a FedEx truck for example.

    Oh, and nitpicking aside, this is way cool!


  • ...useless innovation of the Dot Com era is dead. This is a REAL sign of a recovery.
    • Yes, please bring back the days of large salaries and sitting around doing way less then you should have been doing, while everyone is in meetings arguing about synergy and you're just trying to get your Divx movies to play and Napster working through the corporate firewall, while nurf darts whizz over head and ThinkGeek seems like a really cool place to order expensive softdrinks and desklamps.

      An office blimp would have fit in really well, not for the delivery thing but for target practice with the nurf g
  • We've had a blimp deliver items around the office for years now... His name's Robert, and he likes McDonalds a little bit too much.
  • "Anyone who likes blimps might want to check out this automated blimp delivery service built by some guy at HP Labs. I personally think this is the future... Now I want WebBlimp to deliver groceries directly to my 29th floor apartment window."

    Excellent way to earn your moniker.

  • everyone will have migrated to this blimp system from e-mail to avoid spam :)
  • I can just imagine someone running around the office, climbing over cubicles and filing cabinet's, trying to catch his paycheck. All the while, his boss is sitting at his computer laughing his ass off and sending the blimp, with paycheck, to the guy who designed this useful office tool.
  • By Email...

    Mark my words...
  • If you, like me, are tired of having to manually deliver documents or other items within your office building, and if your building has high ceilings, good lighting, and minimal air currents, then you will inevitably reach the same conclusion I have: An automatic helium blimp delivery service.

    nope. rfc 1149 [bbc.co.uk], "A Standard for the Transmission of IP Datagrams on Avian Carriers" [ietf.org]

    same dependability [linux.no] as the blimp though: not very dependable.

    so has this guy written the rfc for the intraoffice blimp protocol yet? no!? what kind of nerd does he think he is! ;-P
  • So if you have, say, Window Media Player, you'll need to install an MPEG-2 codec to view the video. I found a shareware one with annoying overlay on playback here: http://www.etymonix.com/

    There is a free decoder out there for Windows, but I don't remember where it was..

  • And no, this is not cause to put me in a sanitarium.

    Think about it: The old blimps were hydrogen, bad idea. I'm not sure about the lift factor of helium compared, but I do know that we've achieved a hell of a lot in terms of lighter building materials, so it seems like a decent sized blimp could be made.

    The problem with cruise liners is that they are, obviously, restricted to the ocean. Enter the blimp, bad ass overland cruise ship. They'd be good for solar power (large surface area) relatively quick if y
  • they're also imposing restrictions on the transportation of model rocket engines.

    It just doesn't seem fair.


  • .. now if they could find a way to deliver spam with hydrogen blimps, all would be good in the world.
  • dude. (Score:5, Funny)

    by heldlikesound ( 132717 ) on Wednesday March 19, 2003 @11:01PM (#5549732) Homepage
    Check out this new electronic mail thing. we've started using around the office, and our blimp use is down like 80%, it's just a superior technology...
  • by FunkSoulBrother ( 140893 ) on Wednesday March 19, 2003 @11:02PM (#5549734)
    Massive tube systems, like the ones they use in the drive-thrus at banks, to send materials shooting through the building.

    I've seen this implemented in some hospitals to move papers and stuff around, it would be cool to see on a larger office building size scale.
    • We already have that. But instead of massive tubes, it seems to be little flexible tubes. Some color coded, but a lot of them are grey.

      It also seems to differ in that it does not move actual pieces of paper, but instead electronic representations of paper documents.

      Can't remember exactly what they call it, but I think it starts with an e.
      • hehe. I get the joke, but the guy in the article was talking about other objects besides documents. How cool would it be to send someone a can of Coke via a Tube system slot by your desk. (Nevermind the fizz in the Coke).
    • 1. Buy several cans of tennis balls
      2. Find most effective route
      3. Wait until the cost is clear, and launch the tennis balls in the tube
      4. Bribe security for the tape of your victim getting hit by barrage of tennis balls.
      5. Setup TV and stick in tape

      Fun for the whole family!
  • This reminds me of the PKD short story, autofac. The idea was automated delivery systems like these were advanced to the point where they harvested and built their own products. Soon there was no way to stop them and they were rapidly depleting resources with no way to stop them. Very interesting story, plenty of social engineering psychological issues in the story, very interesting.
  • If a blimp could be created to either carry beer to me from my fridge to my couch, I would easily buy it.

    On an almost serious note, it might be neet to combine slashdot stories here. What if the "Beer and Bluetooth" [slashdot.org] idea could be combined with the blimp from this story. A bluetooth camera mounted on a blimp that traveled around the bar and took a picture every 10-15 seconds and then posted the picture on a big screen and archived in the gallery.

    Can I copyright these ideas? Nah, nevermind. But they're
  • There have actually been real instances when non-conventional techniques have been used for office delivery. For instance, the Mayo clinic in Rochester, MN uses a sophisticated network of pneumatic tubes for instant office delivery. Remember Winston from Orwell's 1984? He used something like that too. For more info on this technology: a Wired article [wired.com]
    • It's actually a very old idea. Several cities had very large systems of this type in the 19th century, mainly because of the huge volume of telegraph messages being sent. They were made obsolete by the invention of the teleprinter.
  • Star wars and Farscape both have little wheeled robots running around the corridors. Carting important imperial documents? That would be swell in my office.

    ME: "Leetle Buzzy Robot, give this to Ted in Accounting."

    Leetle Buzzy Robot: "BEEE WWHOOP Bee BOOO"

    ME: "Koo Koo Katchoo!"

    Leetle Buzzy Robot: "ZZZZZzzzzzzzz......"


    TED, On Phone: "Uh, Dude? Why is there a Radio Shack monster truck banging into my wastebasket with a post-it-note that says 'Impotent' on it?"

    ME: "I know nothing."

    • TED, On Phone: "Uh, Dude? Why is there a Radio Shack monster truck banging into my wastebasket with a post-it-note that says 'Impotent' on it?

      It's just frustrated by it's impotency, try to be sensitive about it.
    • Yeah, it might have some purpose if it were delivering tangable items like those CDs I bought on EBay yesterday that showed up in the mail room this morning.

      Anything that could be done electronically at 10,000x the speed and 1/10,000th the resource cost would be pretty rediculous though.

      (Reminds me of the unions in LV "Carrying" a tiny 2 lb box from the parking lot to our booth on a single fork of aforklift while a second guy has his hand on top of it to keep it from falling off)
  • ..so we can become more like blimps. if e-mail and IM wasn't bad enough, now the blimp can go get McDonalds down the road, and bring it back to us in out fat asses sitting in a chair and NEVER getting up. Feels like the old x-men enemy MoJo.
  • OK, so delivering a PostIt note is no biggy.

    He's really solving a much more important problem - visual tracking and control of dumb vehicles. I like the red and blue idea, it is economical and fits the available technology. The advantage is that the vehicle does not know, or even need to know, where it is. What other contactless 3D positioning system could be built for a hundred bucks? This is great for expendable vehicles, or those with very limited payloads.

    Neat, fun, slightly daft, project, in my opini
  • Now I know wher all the money I spent on HP servers that I bought went to. At least I know that it is being put to good use.
  • There has to be some way to combine this with pneumatic tubes. Like, use the pneumatic tubes as a LAN, and the blimps as a WAN. Do something like that, and then this will be cool enough.
  • Flashes of 'the fifth element' come to mind :)
  • Back in the 1980s, the MIT Media Lab tried something like this. Mostly because their building has a really big atrium.
  • How is this better than pneumatic tubes? ... a fine piece of Victorian technology which is still in limited use today e.g. at the local Costco and at my local bank's drive-in teller operation.

    Why couldn't you have a viable system of pneumatic tubes providing anywhere-to-anywhere delivery via hub-and-spoke (all tubes are routed from e.g. desks to a single central "hub" location. To send it from point A to point B, you put it in a tube at point A where it gets sent to the hub, where a robot transfers it to
  • Don't we see a blimp hovering in the offices of Mad magazine whenever they have to depict their offices????
  • I'm am frankly impressed that someone managed to use machine vision to control a delivery system in real time.

    Think about it guys, in his spare time this guy managed to use a single camera, some color filters, and an SDK to navigate a childs toy anywhere in a room up to 40m wide. Is it reliable, no. But I would'nt call the Wright flyer A reliable either.

    I'm personally working on an entry for the Darpa Grand Challenge, and I really have to respect anyone who can get machine vision to work.

    Either that o

  • Before you decide you need one of these, you must read The Horror of Blimps [teemings.com]. It seems that not all blimps are as innocent as they're like you to think...


"If it's not loud, it doesn't work!" -- Blank Reg, from "Max Headroom"