From Naples to the stratosphere and back... with Digital DIY

(Preface: we visited Maker Faire Rome 2016, and invited the most interesting Digital DIY projects we found there to present themselves here on the DiDIY blog. We are happy to do so (SEE BELOW!), because on one hand, it helps us to collect relevant material for our mission, all in one place. On the other, it helps all our readers to understand how wide and dynamic the Digital DIY phenomenon is. This post, written by Amedeo Lepore, with contributions by Virgilio Chiuchiolo, Pasquale Adobbato and Simone Bacci, is the first of such presentations)

Helios RTH, which stands for "Helios Return To Home", is a unique and innovative educational project, designed and coordinated by some companies (Prodron Srl and together with High School IIS “Vittorio Emanuele II” of Naples. The project consists of a set of design, development, testing, and debriefing recursive redesign activities with the purpose of sending balloons and their related payload in the stratosphere.

Each new stage "design iteration" provided the use of a new Payload, a new data acquisition system, telemetry and remote control more advanced than those used in previous iterations.

Each new system has been entirely designed and built, both in hardware integration and in SW development, in close cooperation among teachers, learners, and field specialist from various disciplines, all sharing the same enthusiasm for the sciences, technology, experimentation.

(Note from the DiDIY Project: in our opinion, the most interesting part of this great project, which also has the great benefits to minimize waste and pollution by high-altitude balloon missions, is the "Digtal DIY" answer that the HeliosRTH team gave to the following question)

After a series of launches and their related recoveries, we asked ourselves a question: "How can we avoid wasting time and gasoline to retrieve the payload?"

We arrived, in fact, at a stage in which we only knew the exact point from where the probes were launched, but, because of the winds aloft, we could not know exactly where they were going to fall. Software which takes into account various weather situations can only make an estimate of the re-entry area. So we decided to solve the problem in an low-cost, "Digital DIY" way.

The result is based on Arduino, an open-source electronics platform, with the integration of a series of expandable boards and sensors. All this instrumentation is assembled under a custom designed, tailless aircraft.

So we may summarize the features that make Helios RTH an innovative project are as follow:

  • Capsules with payloads able to return to the launch point in a completely autonomous mode.

  • Flying time up to 6 hours thanks to an optimized hardware and software management.

  • Emergency landing by parachute in case of hardware or software malfunction.

  • Automatic release system programmable capsule before launch.

All documentation and additional videos will be soon available online or on the related forum at In the near future, we will also release a book with educational experiments to replicate most of the system.

Important note: please note that the offer to publish a presentation of your Digital DIY project is always valid, and not limited to project presented at Maker Faire Rome! Please contact us to know more.