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A device that lights up whenever the International Space Station is nearby (that happens more often than you might expect) Read more

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Funded!

This project was successfully funded on February 27, 2014.

A device that lights up whenever the International Space Station is nearby (that happens more often than you might expect)

About this project

note: I will be adding additional rewards as the existing ones are "sold out" - this is to allow me to manage the shipping of the product.  Thanks all for your amazing support and interest!

WHY I BUILT IT

The International Space Station passes overhead most of the populated areas of the world more frequently than you would imagine. If only you knew it was there.

That's what the ISS-Above does.

It lights up when the ISS is nearby, but that’s not all. It can also TWEET a message to the Space Station and it has its own built-in web server to give you a ton of information about current and future passes.

It's both an awareness thing, so more people get to know the Space Station is in their sky, and it's also to let those who are "up there" know that we know and appreciate what they are doing!  

HISTORY OF DEVELOPMENT

In late October 2013 I decided to find out if I could create the ISS-Above.  I was heading over to the UK in early December and I wanted to be able to leave a couple of ISS-Above's with my grandkids over there.  I just thought that would be a cool present from their "geek" grandpa.  

The Raspberry Pi looked to me like a good hardware foundation for the solution I wanted to create.  I ordered one along with a PiGlow LED color display and set about writing some test code to see if I could make it work.   

I even had to brush up on my algebra and math skills unused since high-school to solve some of the tricky calculations.  Within a few days I felt confident that I could really get something working.  

One of my first test ISS-Above devices
One of my first test ISS-Above devices

ISS-Above on public display

One of my goals at the outset was to have these devices on public display.   

I have a local cafe near a park I walk my dog most days and the owner agreed to display one on their wall.   It's been there since November 27th 2013.   

This first Public installation of an ISS-Above has been happily blinking away since then.
This first Public installation of an ISS-Above has been happily blinking away since then.

 We even created a press release all about it.

I heard about the San Diego Mini Maker Faire on Dec 7th (just one day before my flight to the UK).   I decided that would be a useful venue to gauge the interest level.   

It was a great success - I just about lost my voice sharing with everyone who stopped by.

Here is their write-up about my exhibit.

ISS-Above devices worldwide

While in the UK as I was setting up the two ISS-Aboves for my Grandkids I got mentions on Hackaday and Reddit which generated a lot of traffic and interest in what I was doing. 

A few months down the line, I've run a Beta test where I have 20+ locations trying it out.  

Red = Public, Green = Online and Brown = Online soon.
Red = Public, Green = Online and Brown = Online soon.

By the way - the grandkids' ISS-Above's are on the map in the UK.  One is in Bristol (Meggy Moo's) and the other is very close to the Royal Observatory in Greenwich.

You can see many of the Tweets from all these devices on the @ISSAboveYOU twitter feed.

HOW DOES ISS-ABOVE WORK?

It's a lot less complicated than it may seem if you choose any of the COMPLETE ISS-Above rewards - just plug in an ethernet cable and power and it will start doing it's stuff right away
It's a lot less complicated than it may seem if you choose any of the COMPLETE ISS-Above rewards - just plug in an ethernet cable and power and it will start doing it's stuff right away

The brains of the ISS-Above is a very small Single Board Computer called a Raspberry Pi.   It's like a regular computer that you have in your house - just a LOT smaller.   You can plug in a keyboard/mouse and monitor and do a whole load of standard "computery" things with it if you'd like too.  

Unlike a regular computer the Raspberry Pi has some special Input/Output connector that allows you to hook up lots of cool little gadgets.   ISS-Above works with numerous add-on display devices that light up / change color and/or display information in some way.   

IMPORTANT:  For this Kickstarter I have decided to provide reward options that contain a complete ISS-Above and one of two types of colorful LED display devices, the PiGlow or the Ledborg.  Both are excellent displays and I recommend each of them wholeheartedly.  The PiGlow is unique with it's circular/spiral layout while the Ledborg is intensely bright.  Either display works to indicate when the ISS is nearby.  The video shows how each version works.  

I've coded ISS-Above so it calculates the position of the ISS at any point in time.  The code looks to see if the ISS is in the sky above you and then lights up and makes a general fuss if it is.  The PiGlow and LedBorg also flash at regular intervals before each pass to let you know approximately how long until the next overflight and it's built-in web server application gives much more information about all future passes as well.     

The space station uses it's rockets to avoid space junk and to push it back up as it has a tendency to drift lower in it's orbit due to the drag of the upper atmosphere (even at 280 miles up). Therefore ISS-Above needs to be connected to the Internet so it can pull down updated orbit information from NASA every few days.  

Isn't there an App for that already?

True... and I probably have almost all of them.  If you have an iPhone / iPad / Android phone there are ALREADY numerous Apps that will tell you when the ISS is going to be passing by.  Those are great - BUT - that's not what ISS-Above is about.  I don't know about you but I don't need yet one more App on my phone to beep and make a fuss about something else.  

I wanted something small; a physical device that can just sit on a window sill or on a shelf beside the TV and light up every time the ISS is making a pass in my sky.   Having these in my house (and even one in my local Cafe near Caltech) for the past few months really has me understand the difference it makes to see just how frequently it passes nearby.

WHY WILL THIS PROJECT SUCCEED? 

I already have fully working beta units at numerous locations across the world. It's already proven.  While I will continue to develop the code and adapt it to other display devices it is basically feature complete and fully functional today. By the way, the results of this Kickstarter will support this development and hopefully accelerate other ideas I (and perhaps YOU) have for future uses.   

WHY KICKSTARTER?

While the hardware for the device can be assembled by anyone - I still have many people who have approached me wanting a complete package already setup for their location.  I can only do that if I have enough volume.  Volume means I can purchase the components with lower shipping costs and more efficiently configure and assemble complete units.  

This approach also means I can deliver pretty much turnkey units that simply need to be plugged in to power/Ethernet and turned on.  No other configuration needed.   

What it comes down to is a simple question.  Do YOU think this project is worth backing?  Are YOU interested in getting one?   

How will the Kickstarter funds be used?

The funds are needed to purchase all the hardware components for the rewards and to assemble / customize each SD card image to each backers location and chosen display device and to create a custom username/password to enable the ISS-Above to send tweets via the @ISSAboveYou twitter account.

I need to add some features to the base ISS-Above code - including a web interface to some of the optional settings - particularly to allow the Tweet message text to be easily altered.  Currently all these settings are altered by connecting a monitor/keyboard directly to the Raspberry Pi or by using SSH terminal software from another computer.  While that is quite easy to do - I don't believe every ISS-Above user will want to do that.    Therefore a web interface will make these sorts of changes very easily from any browser.  

I also need to maintain a web server capable of handling the tweets that are being sent from all ISS-Above units.   

THE PLEDGE REWARDS

PLEASE NOTE:  In the main project video above I show several different versions of the ISS-Above with display options that are NOT offered as pledge rewards in this Kickstarter.  In particular the the ADAFRUIT LCD + Blinkstick.   If you would like THAT version please select Reward #2 (the 8GB SD card) and purchase the other components yourself (Raspberry Pi, Power Supply, Case, Adafruit LCD, Blickstick) 

  • Reward #0 "THANK YOU": $1
    Kickstarter allows any pledge amount from 1$ up so I added this level after launch.   Thank you for your support.  We'll keep you informed of progress and add your name to the web site to acknowledge that support.  

    (note to self for next Kickstarter.. don't refer to the rewards by numbers) 
  • Reward #1 "TWEET UP": $5  You may not be ready to get an ISS-Above - but you want to support the project anyway.  Awwwww THANK YOU!!! You'll be recognized on our web site of course*. But we'll also have an ISS-Above device in Pasadena Tweet a message of thanks to you. The tweet will go out via our @ISSAboveYou twitter account when the space station passes within 750km (460m) of Pasadena in the order received. We'll start tweeting the thanks after the project is funded and it will carry on until we have thanked all of you who supported us at this level.

    *note: you will be able to remain anonymous if you prefer not to be recognized either on the web site or via the ISS-Above tweet.  
  • Reward #2 8GB SD CARD: $42  
    This is an 8GB SD card with all the ISS-Above code - pre-configured with your location details (latitude and longitude), timezone and custom ISS-Above tweet login so your device can join the world-wide network of devices sending a "Hi there" message to the Space Station when it passes nearby. This reward is perfect if you have a Raspberry Pi already or you just want to build one yourself perhaps with a different supported display device than the PiGlow or Ledborg (for instance the Blinkstick, ADAFRUIT LCD).  The key here is that you will just plug the SD card in to your Raspberry PI and switch it on.  

    *After the project is funded you will receive a survey where you will identify your location and your chosen display device. We'll configure the SD card with that information so you can get up and running with no further changes needed.  
  • Reward #3 Ledborg ISS-Above Complete  : $115
    ISS-Above device with the Ledborg, Raspberry Pi Model B, 5V 1Amp Power Supply, Custom 3D Printed Case, 8GB SD card with ISS-Above code loaded and pre-configured for your location. 

    We'll contact you after funding with a survey to ask you to specify your color choice for your case and other information needed to customize your ISS-Above to your specific location. The key here is open the box, connect the ISS-Above to your Ethernet and plug in the power. In about 45 seconds your device will be up and running.
  • Reward #4 PiGlow ISS-Above Complete: $125  
    ISS-Above device with the PiGlow, Raspberry Pi Model B, 5V 1Amp Power Supply, Custom 3D Printed Case,  8GB SD card with ISS-Above code loaded and pre-configured for your location.  Other than the PiGlow - this is identical to Reward #3

3D PRINTED CASE 

This case is printed on one of those new nifty 3D printers.   I love them personally but there are some things you may need to be aware of.  

The cases are great if you just put the Raspberry Pi and Display device inside and snap it together and then leave it alone.  As long as you order this add-on with rewards #4 or #5 we would have done that for you already.  If you intend to open the case frequently - the snap-together-mechanism can be a little fragile.   

The case surface is also not perfectly smooth and some of the material around the lettering can have small blemishes all of which is normal for the technology currently available. Despite this I still highly recommend them.
These cases have cut-outs to allow the display LED's to shine through nicely.
These cases have cut-outs to allow the display LED's to shine through nicely.
They are available in 6 different color choices (note: colors may vary somewhat from those shown here)
They are available in 6 different color choices (note: colors may vary somewhat from those shown here)

INTERNATIONAL SHIPMENT

If you live outside the USA I think a good choice for you would be to purchase the 8GB SD Card version (which I can ship First Class International Air Mail at a small extra charge) and then to purchase the individual components locally.  That will still make the experience close to "plug-n-play".  

I know from feedback already received there are some who would still prefer to get the fully configured version (as that includes the custom ISS-Above 3D Printed case) so we are offering to ship the COMPLETE ISS-Above anywhere in the world for an additional charge of $15. This likely won't cover all our costs. I do however want to support the adoption of ISS-Above outside the USA and I do not want a lack of worldwide shipping to be a barrier to adoption.

FUTURE DEVELOPMENT

I want to see these devices in all space/science museums and public observatories around the world.  To that end I am planning on developing public display versions of ISS-Above utilizing more extensive LED/graphics capabilities.  Your support of this Kickstarter will help make that possible.

PROJECT TIMELINE

Based upon successful Kickstarter funding towards the end of February - and receiving funds 14 days after that - here is the production schedule for rewards

Reward #1 Tweets will go out beginning a few days after final funds have cleared.  I'll have developed custom ISS-Above code that will cycle through the list of all Reward #1 backers and send the Tweet to thank you.   

Surveys will be sent to backers for Rewards #2,#3,#4 to gather their custom Location information (City/Country), and the custom case color (#3 & #4) and for Reward #2 to confirm which Display Device they will be using (PiGlow, Ledborg, Blinkstick, Adafruit LCD).  

Assuming funds clear the bank account within 14 days and we have received all survey responses (or very close to 100%) we can then begin to place orders for components (the critical information here would be the chosen color for the 3D Printed case - as those cannot be printed until we have all the survey responses).  

We expect delivery of Raspberry Pi / PiGlow / SD Cards to our office within 1 week of placing the oder 

We expect the LedBorg display device delivery within 2 weeks (international shipment from UK)

As soon as the SD cards arrive we will begin the process of writing each ISS-Above image on to the cards.  

We will then begin customizing each image based upon each backers stated location (including their time-zone) and chosen display device.  EVERY SD card will be tested in a Raspberry Pi to ensure it functions as expected. 

SHIPMENT Schedule

Reward #2 (SD card) and #4 (Piglow) should begin shipment towards the end of March 2014 (likely very close to 3/28/14).

Reward #3 (Ledborg) should start shipping early April 2014 (likely very close to 4/4/14) 

PRODUCTION SCALE

If the Kickstarter is obscenely successful (I hope it is) I have plans to scale production as needed (e.g. multiple assembly "lines").

Testing / QA

It is absolutely the most important thing to me that ISS-Above devices work as expected and backers can get their system up and running without any issues.  Therefore every single item we will ship will undergo a full test/QA to ensure it functions as expected. 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

I need to send a special thanks to all of those involved in the beta test of ISS-Above.  Your support made it possible for me to believe I could create something that could be installed and setup by anyone - anywhere in the world.  I simply could NOT have achieved this without your help.  

Also a SPECIAL THANKS to my wife Anna for all her support on getting this project off the ground.  She has compared our household and the conversations we have been having over the past two months to an episode of The Big Bang Theory.  I guess as we live in Pasadena (the city where the series is set) that makes even more sense.    

THANK YOU BACKERS

I am sure you understand that I care very much about what this project will provide for awareness and inspiration for the space program(s) worldwide.  

To you, the Backers of this project, THANK YOU so much for your support.  I so look forward to YOUR ISS-Above coming online and becoming part of the virtual world-wide Wave to the Space Station as it passes overhead.  

Risks and challenges

Everything I am providing here is readily available. Depending on the success it may be that some components might end up in short supply although currently all the major components have ample stock. I have noticed some components going in and out of stock with some of the suppliers - if this happens at the time of the Kickstarter being funded there may be a short delay in delivery based upon this (which is outside my control). I am currently looking across multiple suppliers to have a backup plan if needed. I do not expect this to be an issue - but just know I am looking at this carefully so as not to be caught off-guard.

If the project is ridiculously successful I may have to move the Tweeting platform server to a cloud based dedicated setup to be able to cope with the additional load. Fortunately that can be achieved with very little notice so I am ready if that is needed. This will not impact the actual ISS-Above devices themselves in any case - as they are pretty much self contained for their main use of showing when the ISS is above and displaying details of future passes.

Most importantly you can see the device is ALREADY out there in the world - being used in the Beta sites without issue.

Learn about accountability on Kickstarter

FAQ

Rewards

  • You selected
    Pledge $1 or more

    15 backers

    THANK YOU for your support. We'll post your name to our web site to acknowledge your contribution to the project and we'll keep you informed of the progress. *Note: added this reward level after launch as I noticed Kickstarter allows for $1 minimum pledge level anyway.

    Estimated delivery:
  • You selected
    Pledge $5 or more

    13 backers

    "TWEET UP THANKS" - You may not be ready to get an ISS-Above - but you want to support the project anyway! Awwwww THANK YOU!!! Just know your acknowledgement is very much appreciated.

    You'll be recognized on our web site of course*. But we'll also have an ISS-Above device in Pasadena Tweet a message of thanks to you. The tweet will go out via our @ISSAboveYou twitter account when the space station passes within 750km (460m) of Pasadena in the order received.

    We'll start tweeting the thanks after the project is funded and it will carry on until we have thanked all of you who supported us at this level.

    *note: you can choose to remain anonymous if you wish.

    Estimated delivery:
  • You selected
    Pledge $42 or more

    34 backers Limited (1 left of 35)

    8GB SD CARD with ISS-Above code - pre-configured with your location details (latitude and longitude), timezone and custom ISS-Above tweet login so your device can join the world-wide network of devices sending a "Hi there" message to the Space Station when it passes nearby. This reward is perfect if you have a Raspberry Pi already or you just want to build one yourself perhaps with a different supported display device than the PiGlow or Ledborg (for instance the Blinkstick, ADAFRUIT LCD)
    *After the project is funded you will receive a survey where you will identify your location and your chosen display device. We'll configure the SD card with that information so you can get up and running with no further changes needed. SHIPPING EARLY APRIL

    Estimated delivery:
    Ships anywhere in the world
  • You selected
    Pledge $42 or more

    22 backers Limited (8 left of 30)

    2ND BATCH 8GB SD CARD with ISS-Above code - pre-configured with your location details (latitude and longitude), timezone and custom ISS-Above tweet login so your device can join the world-wide network of devices sending a "Hi there" message to the Space Station when it passes nearby. This reward is perfect if you have a Raspberry Pi already or you just want to build one yourself perhaps with a different supported display device than the PiGlow or Ledborg (for instance the Blinkstick, ADAFRUIT LCD) *After the project is funded you will receive a survey where you will identify your location and your chosen display device. We'll configure the SD card with that information so you can get up and running with no further changes needed. SHIPPING MID APRIL

    Estimated delivery:
    Ships anywhere in the world
  • You selected
    Pledge $115 or more

    14 backers All gone!

    COMPLETE ISS-Above with the Ledborg, Raspberry Pi Model B, 5V 1Amp Power Supply, Custom Case, 8GB SD card with ISS-Above code loaded and pre-configured for your location. We'll contact you after funding with a survey to ask you to specify your color choice for your custom case and to confirm your location details. The key here is open the box.. connect it to your Ethernet and plug in the power. In about 30 seconds your device will be up and running. (SHIPPING MID APRIL)

    Estimated delivery:
    Ships anywhere in the world
  • You selected
    Pledge $115 or more

    6 backers Limited (4 left of 10)

    2ND BATCH COMPLETE ISS-Above with the Ledborg, Raspberry Pi Model B, 5V 1Amp Power Supply, Custom Case, 8GB SD card with ISS-Above code loaded and pre-configured for your location. We'll contact you after funding with a survey to ask you to specify your color choice for your custom case and to confirm your location details. The key here is open the box.. connect it to your Ethernet and plug in the power. In about 30 seconds your device will be up and running. (SHIPPING LATE APRIL)

    Estimated delivery:
    Ships anywhere in the world
  • You selected
    Pledge $125 or more

    60 backers All gone!

    COMPLETE ISS-Above with the PiGlow instead of the Ledborg. Otherwise this is EXACTLY the same as Reward #3. We'll contact you after funding with a survey to ask you to specify your color choice for your custom case and to confirm your location details. (SHIPPING EARLY APRIL)

    Estimated delivery:
    Ships anywhere in the world
  • You selected
    Pledge $125 or more

    34 backers Limited (6 left of 40)

    2ND BATCH COMPLETE ISS-Above with the PiGlow. Raspberry Pi Model B, 5V 1Amp Power Supply, Custom Case, 8GB SD card with ISS-Above code loaded and pre-configured for your location. We'll contact you after funding with a survey to ask you to specify your color choice for your custom case and to confirm your location details. 2nd Batch means it will ship after initial batch of devices (SHIPPING MID APRIL)

    Estimated delivery:
    Ships anywhere in the world

Funding period

- (30 days)