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Space ISS Build

ISS-Above Tells You When the International Space Station is Overhead (Video) 59

Posted by Roblimo
from the look-up-in-the-sky-it's-a-bird-it's-a-plane-it's-a-space-station dept.
It's a device, and quite a small one, based on the Raspberry Pi. It tells you when the ISS is visible from your part of the world and when it will soon be visible so you can grab the kids and dogs and run outside to wave at the astronauts. Or just to watch the closest thing humanity has to a space colony orbit the Earth. Liam Kennedy, ISS-Above's creator, points out that the ISS passes over most of the inhabited parts of the Earth five or six times a day, which is more than most people know. And about ISS-Above and Kickstarter: It's too late to climb on that wagon, and it already was when this interview was recorded in mid-May. But don't despair. Liam managed to raise $17,731 -- which was far more than his $5000 goal. Can you buy one of these things in its various manifestations? Yes. But you need to look long and hard at the ISS-Above website to spot the all-caps word HERE that takes you to the order page. Liam also points out that you can get all kinds of smartphone apps that will tell you where the ISS is at any given moment, but the ISS-Above has an advantage or two over those apps that will be revealed only to those who watch the video or read the transcript. (Alternate Video Link)

Tim: Liam, we are standing here at Maker Faire. You are displaying the ISS-Above. Can you tell me what this is about?

Liam: So the ISS-Above is my attempt to really just have the world be present to just how amazing it is, that we have a permanently manned human outpost that is actually above us, probably more frequently than you’d ever imagine. So the space station, many of you know if you’ve watched the Gravity movie, that it comes over every ninety minutes or so. What you don’t probably realize is that it is in your skies five or six times every day. In fact, we’ve just missed one. Just a few minutes ago, it was just flying over San Mateo, a little bit just off the coast here. So the ISS-Above is my idea to make that really present to everyone. It does it through a really clever little computer. It is this here, it is in a transparent case, it is for the Raspberry Pi.

Tim: I think our readers are going to be pretty familiar?

Liam: That’s right. Where would a computer called Raspberry Pi come from but from the UK? It is a coincidence—I actually live in Pasadena. Because this little device has all the smarts, I decided to develop an application that would work with many different display devices. So I’ve got two versions here: This one is called a LedBorg, and this one is called a PiGlow. And they all light up with two things: One of them is they light up to let you know how long it is going to be until the space station is in your skies. And then they also light up really crazy when it is flying over. And at that point, this thing also has a web server on it, that you can connect to, and then you can select from a custom message that you choose to send to the space station. It does that via a Tweet. So that goes to NASA Mission Control. And there’s a lot of other things here you can control as well. But that’s really what it’s all about.

Tim: What is your inspiration here?

Liam: Oh yeah, okay. So I am not a rocket scientist. I am someone who is into programming. But I never used this computer and the programming language until November of last year. My inspiration was to get these on to a Christmas tree of my grandkids in London, and we were traveling over there. So I decided to build it. Word got out there, in fact on Reddit, somehow someone posted that I built this. And then I found out that, well a lot of other people were interested in getting it too. So then I launched a Kickstarter campaign, that closed in February. And as of today, I’ve shipped 260 of these all around the world.

Tim: Now there are also your phone apps that do the same when the ISS goes over—what is the advantage here?

Liam: Yeah, exactly. There are phone apps—in fact, I have every one of them. And also for my iPad. They’re great—I really love them. But mostly what they’re focused on is letting you know when the space station is going to be visible. Because that’s the other amazing thing—you can see it with the naked eye with no telescope, oftentimes at night or before sunrise. But even having those, they really just don’t give you the special presence of really knowing where it is. But it is in your skies, five or six times a day. So what I get is feedback from people just saying how amazing that is to know. So that’s really why I did it. It was to lift it beyond just an app, and also have you active in the game. So we now have 250 users many of them who send a customized message from them to the space station—and it is very inspiring.

Tim: If somebody wants to join that group, what can they do?

Liam: Yeah, so if you go to issabove.com, you can purchase one of these. Now some people already have the Raspberry Pi, and it can do I actually have a version where you can basically just purchase a customized SD card that actually has the code on it that works with all of these different display devices here. So it has got the PiGlow but then we’ve also got this one here, which is a LCD display. And that scrolls through lots of different information. And then this one here, is what’s called a PiLite that scrolls some cute information. So if you’ve already got one of those, and if you’re already a Raspberry Pi hacker, you can get all of the code you need. It is configurable without any coding required at all. You just plug this into your Raspberry Pi, turn it on, bring up the application, the web application on your phone or on your desktop, and you can select your location anywhere in the world. It takes about five minutes to set it up, and away you go.

Tim: That’s pretty fast. I want to ask you another speed question: How long was this from your inspiration to

Liam: Say that again.

Tim: How long from your inspiration to until you had a working device?

Liam: Yeah, the inspiration to do it in terms of when I started was the end of October of last year. I had a working version sitting in my local coffee shop within two weeks. And then actually I took it to the San Diego Mini Maker Faire—that was on December 7th—just to see what people thought of it. So I’d already had that version available all the way from back then but the Kickstarter launched in February and then completed as of today, May the whatever it is now.

Tim: What does it cost to get started with it?

Liam: Right, so if you want a complete unit like this—we’re doing a special deal for the Maker Faire where it is $115, and it is complete with everything you’ve got here plus the power supply. All you need to add in is just an internet cable here. It is possible for you to buy a Wi-Fi adapter so you can plug it anywhere in your house.

Tim: I will help you answer that again.

Liam: Yes.

Tim: But unfortunately, this is not going to run until the Maker Faire is over.

Liam: No, I’ve got it.

Tim: Let me ask you just a more general question.

Liam: Okay, alright, okay. So the cost of the device is $130. Now if you mention that you actually heard this through the Maker Faire, through this video, watching this video, I’ll honor the price of $115. So that is a $15 discount off the cost of this. If you already have a Raspberry Pi and you just want this card the card retails for $42 but the Maker Faire price is actually going to be $32—so $10 off. So you have until the end of June, I’ll honor that price up to the end of June. Just mention that you heard it on the Maker Faire video.

Tim: 42 for any particular reason?

Liam: Yeah. I am glad you mentioned it. I had to pick some number—I was going to make it 45, and I just thought, “No, it is so close to that other number”. So I decided to make it ,yes, in honor of my favorite book in the world—Life, the Universe and Everything—it is 42.

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ISS-Above Tells You When the International Space Station is Overhead (Video)

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Just a few lines of code the writes "RIGHT NOW".

  • Great! (Score:5, Funny)

    by pushing-robot (1037830) on Thursday June 05, 2014 @02:41PM (#47174335)

    I was just thinking "I don't own enough expensive single-use gadgets whose meagre functionality could be replaced by a few lines of code."

    • I think a shock collar hit every time the ISS is overhead would ensure we don't ever get too complacent about it.
    • Nothing like spending well over a hundred bucks for something that can be done with a free app on my existing Android device (that I paid a lot less for). Pick up a cheap pre-paid Android cell phone, and don't buy the optional air-time card. Load a free app (by wifi). If you can resist the urge to do anything else with your Android device then you'll have about the same thing, except that it will have a better color display that can even show the ISS path in the sky and will cost less.
    • For about 6 months now, I've had an Android app that does this for free.
    • by WarJolt (990309)

      I was just thinking "I don't own enough expensive single-use gadgets whose meagre functionality could be replaced by a few lines of code."

      Yeah and this one comes with it's very own useless HD h.264 video decoder and HDMI port.

  • Nice advertisement (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 05, 2014 @02:44PM (#47174353)

    There are a ton of mobile apps that do this for free. How much did Slashdot make for running this advertisement?

    • by gmagill (105538)

      I think it's nice to see applications for the Pi. Let grandma use the ISS locator on her iPhone - anyone who wants to experiment will find more usefulness with projects like this one.

    • by Roblimo (357) on Thursday June 05, 2014 @03:52PM (#47174895) Homepage Journal

      And I use http://spotthestation.nasa.gov... [nasa.gov] myself, and don't want a $1500 electric bicycle, but there are people who like cute little LED gadgets and have $150 to spend on them, and who want hipster-cool, retro-styled, expensive electric bicycles. So why should I knock them?

      And 100th repeat: Slashdot doesn't get paid for running positive stories about a person or device or whatever. Sometimes it's nice to look at something and say, "Y'know, that's kind of cool and the person making it is kind of likeable." That's pretty much Tim's thought process at a show or conference when he points his camcorder at someone or something.

      • And 100th repeat: Slashdot doesn't get paid for running positive stories about a person or device or whatever. Sometimes it's nice to look at something and say, "Y'know, that's kind of cool and the person making it is kind of likeable." That's pretty much Tim's thought process at a show or conference when he points his camcorder at someone or something.

        Aren't shills for Slashdot Corporate supposed to have the green circle-and-slash by their name and UID?

        The point is, we don't care whether Slashdot Corporate

      • That's pretty much Tim's thought process [snip...]

        That's giving him an awful lot of credit.

      • by AmIAnAi (975049)
        The problem here is the number of Kickstarter related stories running at the moment that have little to zero interest for Slashdot readers. This leads to two possible conclusions, poor editorial selection or paid-for stories. Being a long term reader I am sure it is down to the former, but I have to say that there has been an increase in the number of posts with seriously questionable content that I fully understand people thinking there is a financial motive. Maybe if the Slashdot editors started listenin
      • Of course most of us don't need that gadget, but it's cool to see an older nerd like that picking up nerd-skills and making cool nerd stuff.
        Instead of saying "that is cute, but Simpsons did it" you can also say like "you must have had a lot of fun making it" and enjoy his enthusiasm :)

  • by Anonymous Coward

    But even having those, they really just don’t give you the special presence of really knowing where it is.

    So the advantage is some kind of touchy-feely new age warmth of a "special presence of really knowing where it is"? I fail to see that to be 100% honest and I've seen the ISS pass over me hundreds if not more than a thousand times. My app or the heavens above site works just fine, thankyouverymuch.

    Maybe I'm just not putting something together here but this almost seems pointless.

    • by Richy_T (111409)

      Now, if this aimed a laser pointer at the ISS so you knew *exactly* the direction...

      Does the ISS count for the $10,000 fine?

  • I'm pretty sure there's an app for that....

  • http://www.isstracker.com/ [isstracker.com]
    I guess I won't be buying one.
  • by sunking2 (521698) on Thursday June 05, 2014 @02:49PM (#47174403)
    There's only so much disposable income to go around. And then some of it gets wasted on stuff like this.
  • Hmm... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ericular (876826) on Thursday June 05, 2014 @03:00PM (#47174487)

    Let's see...pay $150 for something to blink an LED to alert a potential sighting for a single orbiting object vs. paying $0 for your smartphone to blink an LED to alert a potential sighting for virtually all significant objects in orbit.

    This is the most blatant slashvertisment yet.

    • But but but ... Raspberry Pi!!!
    • by bitt3n (941736)

      Let's see...pay $150 for something to blink an LED to alert a potential sighting for a single orbiting object vs. paying $0 for your smartphone to blink an LED to alert a potential sighting for virtually all significant objects in orbit.

      This is the most blatant slashvertisment yet.

      Well to be fair, this will get interesting once enough people hook these devices to high-powered lasers that the ISS is constantly bombarded and ends up having to spray paint all its windows.

  • I've seen it around before. There could also be a market for airplane models that light up when a similar plane is ovehead. Say a 747 model that lights up whenever a 747 is near. There are plenty of websites that track planes.

    • by Ericular (876826)

      It just seems like a hard sell to pay that kind of price for functionality that is already free on devices that a large population has on their person during all waking hours.

      • by Xenna (37238)

        Think of it as a piece of interactive art to dazzle your visitors with and it suddenly seems like a really good deal.

        • by Roblimo (357)

          Exactly. Just as I look at the $1500+ hipster electric bicycles as art/lifestyle pieces, because I can buy an electric bike for $550 or a conversion kit for less than $300. Or, since I ride a bike for exercise, and I live in flat Florida, I can just peddle the thing.

  • by PPH (736903) on Thursday June 05, 2014 @03:08PM (#47174533)

    but the ISS-Above has an advantage or two over those apps that will be revealed only to those who watch the video or read the transcript.

    Let me guess: It plays this [youtube.com] whenever the ISS passes overhead.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    this is so you can shine lasers at it.

  • could do this and not be a giant hack, AND it will have a full and integrated control scheme in a nice package with a warranty. I have had this app on my android device for at least 2 years. I have 4 RasPis and a ton of 16x2 LCD displays, Ethernet arduinos, etc and none of it comes close to a nice cheap android solution for this function. You could even go full AOSP with such a simple function.
  • by swillden (191260)

    Why? [google.com]

    (Note that I don't know if that's the best app for ISS detection. It's just the first one that came up.)

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Free and IMNSHO better solution:

    goto Heavens-above.com
    Enter your location by clicking on "Change your observing location".
    Click on ISS at the top of Satellites list.

    You get a list of visible passes, the more negative the brightness (magnitude) number, the easier to see the ISS passing overhead.
    Click a pass listing and you get a star map showing constellations, times, compass directions, and path of ISS through the sky.

    Go outside. Watch ISS.

    • by Cruciform (42896)

      And you get to track several other objects as well. Once I moved out to the country that site was open on my desktop every day.

  • I've seen these guys before at maker faire. It's a neat idea, but I never really understood what was so special about it compared to just downloading a smartphone app or internet or (*gasp*) maybe even reading up on how to do the math and figuring out where it is on your own.
  • And if you don't want to spend your money on a gadget, you can get localized pass predictions from heavens-above.com .

  • by wonkey_monkey (2592601) on Thursday June 05, 2014 @04:57PM (#47175349) Homepage

    1. Find an app that does something vaguely cool and science-y
    2. Replicate about 50% of its functionality with a microcomputer that's far less convenient to use than a phone
    3. ???
    4. Profit!

    Hey everyone, I've just built a hefty box with an Arduino in it that lets you play Flappy Bird on a 16x16 grid of LEDs. One at a time please, no shoving.

  • *fap*

    No wireless, less space than a Nomad. Lame.

  • http://spaceweather.com/flybys... [spaceweather.com]

    Which also tells you about loads of other object floating above your head, plus has audible alerts (if you want them) for any particular object.
      As so many other bits of software previous mentioned also do.
    Why acquire a piece of not-practically-portable hardware to do what you can set the mobe in your pocket to do?
    Weird.

  • The main thing you need is a consistent source of ephemeris data. I've gone poking around a little with Google and haven't really found a good one. There are two or three NASA services that claim to provide the data, but they're never responding whenever I check. I suppose if you're a bit more motivated than I am (my motivation is currently at a "meh" level,) you could probably find one.
  • SpaceWeather.com has a "Flybys " website; enter your zip code (USA) or Lat/Long (Anyplace) to see a list of overflights of the ISS and a couple dozen other satellites that are bright enough to see.

    http://www.spaceweather.com/fl... [spaceweather.com]

    The web site is free; they have an Android and iOS app for five bucks, I think, that sounds an alarm.

    More than good enough. Although I can see how designing your own device and programming it yourself is more impressive than buying an app or navigating to a web site.

  • > ISS-Above has an advantage or two over those apps

    But the advantages it supposedly has have nothing to do with it being a dedicted piece of hardware, and could be implemented better and cheaper in an app...

  • Hey Slashdotters

    Thanks for all the comments - I truly love seeing the reaction to this post about the (my) ISS-Above.

    I just want you all to know I appreciate everything each one of you has said about me and about the ISS-Above. Very entertaining (and in many cases - a very appropriate reaction to a rather specialized and expensive device).

    I'm not responding here to try to persuade any of you to have a different opinion. I do however want to at least speak to some of the misunderstandings that I see here

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