A couple days went by without hearing new of Astdroid, but I remained optomistic. A week went by and my hopes faded slightly. At about a week and a half in I admitted some amount of defeat and purchased a new phone. Now that it’s been a couple weeks I have no choice but to wonder if Astdroid will ever be found.
It’s been slightly demoralizing in some senses, the launch and communication with the phone had gone so well, but in another sense it wasn’t entirely unexpected. Sending a phone into space and recovering it is an ambitious goal to begin with. Couple that with bare bones equipment and a first try and it would have been very impressive indeed to have had a 100% successful inagural launch.
The silver lining for a failed first attempt is found in lots of lessons learned. In studying our data, reading of other lost balloon accounts, and taking a hard look at our code, I know our next launch will be a drastic improvement.
Perhaps, in some sense, things moved a bit too quickly. In an attempt to stay in the zeitgeist of the internet (and its notoriously short attention span) I wanted to get this project running and to its first success as soon as possible. Some things were overlooked, others consciously ignored in favor of a speedy schedule. I put alot of work in a short period of time, which was great, but with it came bugs.
After the failure to recover the first attempt at flying Astdroid the last thing I wanted to do was immediately sit down and start over again. I realized that doing so much so quickly had burnt me out.
About 2 weeks ago, having had some time to relax my brain, I revisited one piece of Astdroid that had bothered me and contributed to its recovery failure, the location tracking. Although the code I had written had worked as anticipated and we were able to watch Astdroid fly in real time across Denver, the battery it used to do so drained it incredibly quickly. In my tests it had gone from a full charge to 0% in about 2 1/2 -3 hours. As the balloon took much longer than anticipated to reach the height we expected, it’s quite likely that Astdroid wasn’t even on at burst, much less on the way down.
I have since completely rewritten the location tracking code, breaking it up into a separate project and greatly improving the battery life achieved while running it. In my estimation, the battery life has been increased on the order of about 3-5 times (I’ll be able to be more specific with some additional testing).
Since the end goal of Astdroid is to provide an application that others can download to replicate the project, I consider this a big achievement in redesign. We all know that 2 1/2-3 hours of batter life simply won’t due if the end goal is for this application to operate without the assistance of other devices for such an ambitious task.
Like I said, there were lots of lessons learned from the first flight. I’m approaching things this time around with a little more attention to detail and a lot slower pace. You’ll continue to see updates here, but they may be fewer and farther between. Rest assured though, this project is by no means dead.
In breaking out the live tracking code of the Astdroid project and taking a deep look at it I realized it had a use as a utility on its own. I decided to spawn off a project for that functionality called LiveTrax. I consider it a tangible byproduct of Astdroid’s software achievements.
LiveTrax is currently available in the Android Marketplace for free. With a couple button pushes your phone is tracked in real time and a link to a unique url is provided for your to share with your friends and family.
In addition to tracking a phone as it hitches a ride with a weather balloon I envision it to be useful for hiking, road trips, and races. Even something as simple as “I’m on my way to meet you, here’s where I’m at now u.livetrax.me/m/____” It’s often illustrated how many great products we use today originated from NASA ventures, I consider LiveTrax spawning from Astdroid much the same way I’ll be adding some cool features in the coming weeks so stay tuned! I’d love to know what you think!