Visitors to the Queensland Centre for Advanced Technologies (QCAT) complex in Brisbane can soon expect to be shown around the facility by a floating donut.
Designed by Queensland University of Technology avionics engineering student Bryan Huang, the one meter wide blimp is based on a party balloon - but is a little more complex.
"We wanted to try a doughnut shape to see if it offers better manoeuvrability indoors than a more conventional football shape," says Huang.
The blimp cruises the corridors using three propellers for lift and forward movement, along with a number of infra-red sensors to detect obstacles such as people and walls. A pressure sensor, accelerometer and compass detect height, speed and direction.
For navigation, it also uses a wireless sensor network, detecting sensor nodes scattered throughout the building.
"It’s an application of what’s known as pervasive computing," said Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Research Organization (CSIRO)information and communication technologies (ICT) researcher, Phil Valencia.
"With these tiny smart wireless sensors all around the place measuring things, sending data and making decisions, you end up with a kind of embedded intelligence."
The team says the system has all sorts of potential functions beyond acting as a tour guide. It could be used to track animals, measure crop conditions or monitor household energy use, for example. CSIRO is already looking at modifying it for some of these tasks.