Business school

Course manager Anders Örnell and myself, branding my diploma

This Tuesday marked the end of the business course I’ve been attending one evening per week since September. The course gives an overview in several aspects of running a company; marketing, sales, entrepreneurship, service and law. It’s been a good starting point for mastering the world of business. The energy and entrepreneurial spirit of all participants and the interesting discussions also made an impression on me.

http://www.foretagarskolan-linkoping.se/

Instead of the business class, I’ll now spend my Tuesday evenings on something very different — a Bachata dance course.

Launching Windsond by a condom

The team and I launched a sond a few days ago by inflating a condom with helium. Condoms are much lighter than regular balloons but above all they improve the mood of the mission participants considerably. ;) The helium volume was estimated to 17 liters. This gave an average ascent rate of 1.5 m/s. The ascent rate given the neck lift 15.1g should be 1.0 m/s so the shape of the condom probably helped to improve the speed.

The condom burst a bit prematurely at 2400m AGL, a few hundred meters before the sond was instructed to let go. The temperature had dropped from 0*C on the ground to -12.4*C at this altitude. Although it’s doubtful condoms are designed to “operate” at freezing temperatures, the gas expansion at the altitude is the probable cause of the burst. On the other hand, a ground test showed a condom of the same model could contain over 40 liters of air before popping but maybe there are variations between copies. I considered to write a complaint to the manufacturer over this blatant product failure. ;-)

The launch was done in the evening, after dark. While the sond was still falling, I activated the beacon strobe by a button in the GUI. We were still 3-4 km away from the falling payload but the brief flashes of light were clearly visible, like a shooting star. The sond landed 65 m from the location originally predicted at 2400m altitude. In the dark, the blinking was very effective to locate the sond. The whole enclosure lit up and illuminated a meter of the ground around it. In the open landscape, the beeping was faintly audible at 200 m distance.

Another Windsond was also launched to compare the results of two data sources. They coincided very closely. The profiles of wind direction, wind speed, temperature and humidity were found to agree within tight margins. The second sond was launched while the first was still in the air which also demonstrated the ability of the system to handle multiple soundings at the same time. For the second sond I picked a landing location on a field close to a minor road. We picked up the sond 50 meters from the estimated position.

The double test was a big success and also very fun! A big thank you goes out to the team.

Windsond in Swedish winter

Gränna saw the gathering of hot air balloons during the weekend Andrée Memorial Meet in February 2013. The cloud base was on the low side but turned out quite ok for a nice competition.

A Windsond sounding right before the morning briefing gave us the details of the wind conditions. As an anonymous pilot said afterwards; “I should have trusted the wind sounding more”.

Windsond ascent and fall in Gränna

Weather sounding before the flight

The system has matured a lot lately. The Windsond description is updated with the latest specifications.

The first seven months

SnowfallWhen I started Kiwi Embedded, it was April and the sun started to actually make a difference after the Swedish winter season. I did enjoy the sunshine but I also had a lot of work plans so I didn’t waste too much time outside. Fast-forward to today; this morning the snow is piling up on the outside of my windows. When the sun does shine everything is white and bright, but it won’t give any warmth again during this year.

In other words, Kiwi Embedded has been running for over half a year. What’s happened during this time?

The original plan was rather hazy. Spend a few months to finish my ongoing projects and think about my next step.
As so very often in this industry, the projects took more time than planned. To be fair, I’ve also expanded the ambitions quite a bit. I’m now pursuing business ideas and offering consultant services in embedded systems on a more long-term scale.

During the start of the summer I finally took Channel Wizard to production. But the vast majority of the time has gone into developing the weather balloon system Windsond. The original project to provide a basic system for Swedish Airsport was concluded during the summer and I helped to successfully demonstrate it on site during the ballooning world championships in USA. The scope has expanded a lot since then and I look forward to launching a great product.

With the exception of a few weeks of holiday and the following flu, I’ve worked hard and efficiently. The log file of what I’ve been doing each day measures 220 KB in text mass. Efficient work doesn’t necessarily mean it’s effective towards the end goal. (Incidently, the Swedish language would have you believe so, as it doesn’t really make a distinction between the words ‘effective’ and ‘efficient’). I hope my work will turn out to be effective and useful.

Apart from concrete systems development, I’m now better oriented in the industry and in business management. I’ve made quite a few contacts in software and hardware development, manufacturing, business people and entrepreneurs. The entrepreneurial aspect is tantalizing and something I’m looking more into. I’ve met startups that succeeded, startups on their way to success and startups that didn’t succeed. You can’t know the outcome in advance but have to try to even get the chance.

Meeting with entrepreneurs

I’ve also met many people with a desire to realize their own idea or just a vague desire to realize something in general. Once you start looking, the world is teeming with great competence waiting to be put to better use. All that’s needed is a solid idea, financing and a knack for organization…

In conclusion, it’s been a lot of work but also a lot of fun and valuable personal development. Back in those spring days, the future was unclear. I’ve learned much since then but the future is still unclear, albeit in slightly different ways. Nevertheless, my present is meaningful and I still have good hopes for the future.

Technology in Linköping

This week a lot companies come together here in Linköping and Östergötland for seminars, lectures and other events on the theme of innovations and starting and expanding businesses. The initiative is called “Vecka 45“. I’m attending; listening, discussing and making connections. Running a business has so many facets. There sure are many organizations that want to help in one way or another.

One thing is clear; this area is a hot-spot for technology startups. The long-time presence of big companies like aircraft manufacturer Saab and mobile networks giant Ericsson has been a big factor in this success. Other important companies at Mjärdevi Science Park are Autoliv, Intentia, IFS, defence research institute FOI, Motorola, Sectra. That’s not counting the companies involved in computer vision and digital media. There are many a dozen consultancy companies active in this area. And of course the forward-thinking Linköping University plays an important role. They were the first in Sweden to introduce dedicated computer education programs.

Certainly a good place to be when seeking opportunities in the technology business.

Developing the next Windsond

Since the last update, I’ve developed most of the next version of Windsond. It will incorporate a great number of improvements:

  • Higher altitude
  • Longer radio range
  • Many concurrent units, both receivers and weather balloons
  • Lower weight
  • Longer battery life
  • Proper encasing
  • Optionally measure air pressure and humidity
  • Better adapted to automated production
  • … and more

Pictures and test results to follow.

Windsond graphics

So far I haven’t talked much about the computer software that controls Windsond and visualizes the data. The software is still not completely polished but I can give an idea of what it looks like.

For each launched sond, there are three views.

The first view shows individual data updates from the sond and gives control over sond settings such as detach altitude, radio output power, LED blinking and loudspeaker output. This part is receiving an overhaul right now so I’ll show a screenshot later.

The second view visualizes the status of the sond. This includes the present whereabouts such as battery voltage, altitude and distance travelled, but also graphs that show how radio reception, altitude and ascending speed has developed over time. There’s also a draft graph showing the shape of the flight path as seen from above.

View of sond status. In this example, the altitude curve shows how the sond ascended, then descended more quickly (after detaching from the balloon). When close to the ground, the radio reception was cut off until the chase car came within a few hundred meters of the landing site.

The third view shows weather data as measured by the sond by plotting wind direction, wind speed and temperature against altitude. The Y axis maps altitude and X axis the data at that altitude. The two right-most graphs have additionally a black curve-fitting function overlayed to disregard the uncertainty in individual measurements. The experimental left-most plot visualizes the wind direction at different altitudes using a polar representation, with radius being the altitude.

View of weather data

The sond can be tracked in real-time in Google Earth, something that proved very useful during the World Championship. Google Maps caches recently viewed areas and ready-made maps can also be loaded to enable viewing without mobile internet access.

Path of one launch, showing launch site at top and detach position, predicted landing and actual landing at bottom. This particular launch revealed vertical turbulence over the hill that a regular pibal couldn’t show.

The Windsond software also supports reviewing old sessions, either immediately or replaying the progress at different speeds.

After the Balloon World Championship

Early morning with Windsond and traditional theodolite

The Balloon World Championship is over and I’ve made my way back to Sweden. It was a great experience and I’d like to thank all the people that made it possible. The locals were also very hospitable and cheerful.

Windsond worked out well. It provided detailed wind readings to an altitude of our choice and immediately provided the pilot with a clear visualization. When other teams gazed in concentration on a pibal forming a dot in the sky, we could release a prepared balloon through the car side window and drive on.

Path of one launch, showing launch site at top and detach position, predicted landing and actual landing at bottom. This particular launch revealed vertical turbulence over the hill that a regular pibal couldn’t show.

Out of 13 launches, only 3 sonds were lost. The first landed deep in a thick corn field and we got tired of searching when we couldn’t even see a meter in front of us. After this experience, I improved the software to make such unfortunate landings improbable in the future. I’ll talk more about this in a future blog post.

The second sond had a faulty release mechanism and just sailed away. Having the first two sonds disappear was discouraging but after that we got the hang of it and could recover all of them except one which we lost radio contact with, probably from radio interference. Had I remembered to check the frequency before launch, I could have switched frequency and avoided the whole problem.

If you’re a balloonist reading this, I’d love to get in contact with you. The system works well as it is but there are many ideas for extensions and improved software. Knowing the level of interest and your needs helps me to motivate further development and drive down costs.

Reach me at anders@kiwiembedded.com or telephone +46 707 312608.

Balloon Worlds 2012

I’m now at the World Ballon Championships in Michigan, USA, helping the two Swedish balloons with weather observations using the Windsond system. It’s a day and a half left of the week-long competition. It’s a wonderous sight to see a hundred giant balloons suspended in the sky while the rising sun slowly dissolves the morning mist.

So far we released eleven Windsonds. There’s a lot of practical issues to consider and we learned some good lessons along the way. The first lesson was that corn fields are hard work to wade through… After that, I added a feature to predict the landing location if detaching the sond at different altitudes. It proved quite accurate and very useful to make the sond recovery easier.

The competition runs at about six o’clock in the mornings and about six o’clock in the evenings. That leaves a few hours for extra development in the day but in the end there’s not much spare time. Features such as multiple sonds at the same time and lower energy consumption have to wait to another occation.