I’ve had a fascination with R/C helicopters for many years. I’ve owned two helicopters previously, and I recently purchased my third after going about three years without one. I showed the helicopter to my adviser at school and he loved it so much that he wanted to promote it as something of a “mascot” for the electrical engineering department. Anybody who has seen an R/C heli fly in person knows that they are incredible and exciting machines. But, as impressive as they are, we decided we wanted to add something to the bird to personalize it and make it special. Something that would really get people excited about the kind of things that electrical engineers do. I had already been interested in creating a persistence of vision (POV) display out of my ceiling fan after seeing a post on hackaday, so it was the first thing that popped into my head when we were discussing the helicopter. “Wouldn’t it be great to see this amazing little machine flying around, proudly displaying Marquette’s ‘MU’ logo on the rotor disk in brilliant blue and gold LEDs?!” YES IT WOULD!!
After a quick web search to see if anyone else had done this before, I found a German site called NightGraphix.de. This guy has done exactly what I want to do, and he’s done it fantastically well! But he’s also trying to market his product and sell it for a profit. As such, he gives very little detail of how the system works. This is okay with me though, because I was really just trying to find out if this was even possible. The concept and implementation of a POV display seemed simple enough, but I was worried that the added weight and turbulence from attaching circuitry to the heli blades would throw things so out of whack that it would be unflyable. Seeing is believing though, and the NightGraphix guy has a very impressive video of a helicopter displaying multiple images on its rotor while flying as smoothly as anything I’ve ever flown before. I showed the video to my adviser and he simply said, “You’ve got to do it.”
So, with a video from a German website as inspiration and proof that what I wanted to do was really possible, and with the moral support and financial backing of my adviser, I promptly got to work on my own version of a POV heli blade display. Since I’m not one to spend much time on coming up with clever names for things, I just started calling the project “heli lights.”