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Sports Sensors, Inc.

Product Testing performed with DraXxus Paintballs

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Paintball RADARchron ROF
by Bill Mills - Photos by Dawn Mills - February 2008

As the sport of paintball has developed, so has one of its most important pieces of safety equipment – the chronograph. How hard a paintball hits all boils down to how fast it is flying through the air. If it's going too slow, it doesn't stand a very good chance of breaking open to eliminate a player – too fast, and there is an increased risk of injury.

When the game started, paintguns didn't have adjustable velocity, but it didn't take long for enterprising airsmiths to come up with “dial-a-welts” or the now-standard feature we call velocity adjusters. It also didn't take long for the paintball industry to recognize that there was a need to set a maximum velocity limit, to keep paintball safe and fun. Three-hundred feet per second (204.5 miles per hour, or 91.4 meters per second) was accepted as the maximum safe velocity in the early 1980s.

Because there are so many variables – from paint quality and barrel changes to humidity and temperature – that affect the velocity at which a paintball is fired from a marker, it is critical to have a way to measure that velocity each and every day (or better yet, multiple times a day) the game is played. It is also for this reason that by the late 1990s, many paintball fields and tournament series dropped their velocity limit to 285fps coming onto the field, issuing penalties if a player was caught later over 300fps.

paintball optical chronographEnforcing chronograph limits became a battle of technology. In the early to mid 1980s, optical chronographs, already marketed for airgun, archery and firearms use were the standard. While capable of great precision (they are still the standard used in firearm shooting competitions and forensic analysis) optical chronographs are a bit finicky about set-up, use, and the lighting conditions in which they are used.

paintball red radar chronoNext on the scene were radar chronographs, with sturdy metal housed units about the size of a shoe-box, that measure the velocity of a paintball by the Doppler shift (the change in frequency caused by their speed) of a blast of microwave radiation bounced off the paintball. These quickly became the leading way to measure velocity – as they proved durable, and very fast and easy to use at paintball field check-in stations.

paintball radarchronIn 2000, engineer Al Dilz of Sport Sensors, Inc. changed things even further with the Paintball RADARchron. Dilz, who had been producing a baseball glove pitching speed radar for years, simply re-calibrated his existing product for the velocity ranges seen in paintball, and ended up with a hand-held radar chronograph. While not quite as convenient as a table-top chrono for field check-ins, the Paintball RADARchron's price-tag, made it more easily accessible as a personal chronograph, and its pocket size made it very easy for referees – especially in tournaments – to use it to spot-check players' velocities on-field during a game.

In the new millennium spot-checking on-field became increasingly important in tournament paintball, as paintgun technology had progressed to the point that cheater software could be programmed into paintguns to boost their velocity by increasing their solenoid valve dwell time, something that would not be caught by merely checking velocity in the staging area.

The National X-Ball league started employing Paintball RADARchron chronographs in 2002, modifying them with an RF link to automatically display velocity readings on the league scoreboard while a referee checked players on-field.

NXL, PSP, Millennium, CFOA and other leagues to another step to combat electronic cheating of another form – hidden ramping modes that allow a player to shoot more than one shot per trigger pull, but are only accessible via a secret combination of button presses. Without knowing the secret combination, there is no way for a referee to catch a cheat like this via testing (there are not practical methods to check or verify the software loaded in the microprocessors of most modern markers.)

paintballThe practical answer was to change the rules to something enforceable, and allow ramping modes, but limit the player's rate of fire on-field first to 15, and now 13.3 balls per second. Various leagues have used different technology to enforce chronograph and rate of fire limits on-field, and the new Paintball RADARchron – ROF is built not only to address these new needs, but those of general field chronograph use as well, while maintaining its portability and ease of on-field use.

The ROF is a bit larger than the original Paintball RADARchron, roughly the shape of a rectangular prism 5.4 inches tall, 3.8 inches wide at the base, and 1.3 inches thick. It is powered by 3 standard “AA” batteries, unlike the original model which used a less-common N/3 battery. Also unlike the original model, the ROF does not require any tools for a battery change.

paintballThe ROF has a larger display than its predecessor, 3 digits, so it does not have to scroll numbers to display velocity. Additional display items show the mode and act as a decimal point when needed. In addition to merely displaying single-shot velocity, the Paintball RADARchron ROF can report on strings.

When a single shot is recorded by the chronograph, it merely displays the velocuty.

After a string of shots has been fired over the chronograph between 3 and 30 bps, it alternates between displaying the average velocity for the string, and the rate of fire, in bps to 0.1 bps precision. Pressing the ROF's single control button, which is also used to turn the unit on and off, changes display modes so that it will alternate between the minimum and maximum velocity measurements taken during the string. This is important for it to report, as a 300fps average string could include shots at 350fps if there are also shots at 250 fps to bring down the average. Similarly, pressing the function button again, will then display the high and low rates of fire during the string – the timing of the fastest two shots, and that of the slowest.

Firing another shot, or string of shots past the chronograph clears the string data, causing it to report the most recent shots. It was discovered during testing of the chronograph that it is important to keep a string of shots well defined, if the last shot in the string is too long after the shot before it, it will be recorded as a single shot, wiping out the data from the string. It did prove consistently simple to simply hold the chronograph near the muzzle of a firing marker, and pull it away to get a reading velocity and rate of fire.

paintballIn addition to electronic versatility, the ROF has design features that provide more flexibility in how it is used. A swing-out leg and rubberized corners allow the Paintball RADARchron ROF to stand up on a table-top or other flat surface.

A threaded brass insert in its bottom edge allows the chronograph to be tripod mounted.

paintballWhile a cloth carry case is included, there is also an optional leather holster available for referees who will be putting the chronograph to use in-game.

For more durability in chrono station applications, Sports Sensors, Inc., also offers their Check-In stand. Based around the Site-In-Clean rifle rest, the Check-In stand has a storage compartment with room for the chronograph, and a vertical barrel rest which holds the chrono for tabletop use. The chronograph's wire stand acts as a latch to secure it into the check-in station, so it can convert from bench-chrono to hand-held and back in seconds.

paintballA clear shield offers additional protection for those players who always seem to have trouble understanding the instructions “Don't shoot the chronograph!” Placing a markers barrel on the barrel rest makes sure that the muzzle is ahead of the chronograph, where it should be, and positioned close for an solid reading.

To see how the PaintballRADARchron performed, in measuring velocity, it was compared to an optical ballistic chronograph. A series of single shots were fired from a bench-mounted Shocker SFT marker, and their velocities were recorded on the ballistic chronograph and the Paintball RADARchron simultaneously. The different sensing methods of the two chronographs meant that there would not be any potential issues of microwave interference from two different emitters effecting the readings.

paintballThe two chronographs did not record identical velocities for any of the shots. Although the greatest deviance, was the RADARchron reporting a shot 7-percent higher than what registered on the ballistic chronograph. Typical differences, however were one or two percent, and the average over the 10-shot string was only one-quarter of a percent. Full data is available here.

In measuring rates of fire, the Paintball RADARchron ROF was used to measure 10-shot strings fired out of the same bench-mounted Shocker. The shots were fired using a microprocessor controlled pneumatic trigger actuator, to precisely deliver 6, 10 and 12 shot per second rates, all three of which were measure correctly by the Paintball RADARchron ROF.

The Paintball RADARchron ROF maintains the portability and easy of use found in its predecessor, but has been updated to offer greater versatility in commercial paintball use, and in the enforcement of newer tournament rate of fire restrictions.

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