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Get your face into space with element14’s Icarus design challenge

14 February 2012

With the aim of boosting innovation in the electronics industry, element14, a collaborative global electronics community from Premier Farnell, has launched the Icarus Design Challenge for engineers to develop a two-way communication system between the ground and a weather balloon high above the Earth. One designer will receive an all-expenses-paid trip to meet and get their system tested with Robert Harrison, the brainchild behind Icarus.

The Icarus project emerged from Robert Harrison’s initial desire to take aerial photographs of his house. Today it is capable of climbing to altitudes of 35,000 metres to take photos of Earth from near-space. Essentially the craft is a helium filled meteorological balloon carrying a tracking device, camera and battery pack. The balloon is stretched to breaking point at apogee and the payload is parachuted safely back to Earth carrying some of the most stunning images imaginable.
At present, Icarus can only send communications in one direction – from a device that transmits coordinates to the ground station using 50 baud radio teletype (RTTY). The challenge set by element14 is to develop a system that will enable reliable two-way communication, over a distance in excess of 50km. The communication requirements are minimal in terms of data volume, and may be as low as one character per second. A detailed list of design constraints is available online along with entry terms and conditions.

“We’re looking to integrate a two-way communications system, primarily due to safety issues,” says Robert Harrison. “For instance, if the balloon is drifting to an undesirable location such as a big city, an airport or the coast, it would be great to send a signal requesting the mission to abort. Additionally it would be nice to initiate some experiments when conditions are favourable. By launching this competition I aim to tap into the expertise harboured by the element14 community.”

“Innovation is the key element for any project we undertake at element14 and this project with Robert just demonstrates how we are constantly embedding innovation at all levels,” says Dianne Kibbey, global head of community, element14. “With this bespoke challenge, we are very excited to see how we involve engineers and come up with an excellent design solution.  With the addition of a two-way communication system, we are also hoping that the Icarus balloon will be able to tweet and send back pictures in real time of its trip.”

Feeling innovative? To enter the Icarus Design Challenge, simply go to the element14 community to submit the circuit design and specification via private message to RHarrison1971 no later than March 9 2012. Be sure to follow us @element14 for tweets from the weather balloon in the lead up to its launch.  The winner (who will choose the image that will go up with the Icarus weather balloon to be photographed on the fringes of space) will be announced in the element14 Icarus group by March 26 2012. The components required by the winner to build a prototype will be supplied by element14.

To learn more about this challenge, click here

To become a member of the online element14 community click here.

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