Kite mapping

This is something I’ve been meaning to try for myself in some of the ruined iron-age villages up on the moors in Cornwall and Devon one summer. Richard Hayler and his son learned about kite mapping at last year’s EMF festival, where the younger Hayler won the workshop competition. The prize? Two kite kits.

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Richard had noticed that most kite mapping projects use cheap, second-hand consumer cameras from eBay; if the camera has a continuous shoot mode, and a bit of cardboard could be wedged over the shutter button, it’s useable. But Richard realised:

However, even a second-hand camera could set you back £30 or so – comparable to the cost of a Raspberry Pi A+ and camera. I’d been thinking about a Pi-based kite-mapper over the winter and when I saw that AverageManVsRaspberryPi had released a new version of the excellent ProtoCam board for the A/B+, I decided to see what we could put together.

Why use a Pi and camera board? You get tons of extra functionality. The Haylers could calculate how high the kite was flying, add some image stabilisation, and ensure the Pi was only taking pictures when the camera was pointing straight down (essential in blustery weather). It gives them the potential to add GPS logging to the pictures, and much more. Alongside the ProtoCam (we love these little boards – they’re a prototyping board that you can slot your Pi camera into, and are brilliant for adding buttons, leds, displays or whatever else you want to the camera), they bought a Freescale Xtrinsic Sensor Board, which incorporates an altimeter, an accelerometer and a magnetometer, and can be plugged straight on to the Pi’s GPIO pins.

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Stacked together, the whole payload looks like this:

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Richard walks you through the build and through the tests they ran over at his blog; since then, he’s also run some more test flights and has refined the hardware with a case and some other tweaks. The results are joyous.

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This is a terrific project for schools to get into: in an environment where cross-curricular resources are increasingly important, kite mapping is something that can roll history, geography and, of course, computing up with physics and maths. Not bad for a day out with a kite.