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Angel IR3 Preview
by Bill Mills
January 26, 2002

The Angel IR3, scheduled for release on 02/02/02 made its first public appearance at the 2002 Diablo Mardi Gras Open.  The IR3 represents a further refinement of the Angel design.  It is more compact and lighter weight than the Angel and Angel LCD, and most of its design changes are not aimed at performance increases, but rather improving the interface between the player and the paintgun.

The two performance oriented improvements are both centered around ball feeding.  This first is the one way gate in the feed neck.  A simple plastic ring in the feed neck has three flexible fingers which are braced so that they easily bend toward the breech, but not back away from it.  This forms a gate that allows paintballs to fall in but not back out.  This is designed to alleviate problems with balls rolling back into the loader when a paintgun is held upward or at an angle.  If they have not fallen all the way into the breech when the next shot is taken, chopping could be a problem.  The one way gate keeps a stack of balls immediately next to the breech.  The standard IR3 neck holds 3 balls below the gate, while two are held in the low-rise version.

The other major performance feature is COPS, the Crystal Operated Paint Sensor.  Previous Angel models had adjustable delays to limit their rate of fire as a way to prevent out shooting a hopper and breaking paint.  COPS uses a piezoelectric sensor to keep the IR3 from firing before a ball has dropped fully into place.  A rod leads from the bottom of the breech to the piezo sensor located in the top front of the grip frame.  According to WDP design engineer John Rice, COPS has an advantage over infrared anti chop eye systems in that it is not obscured by paint in the breech, and does not have problems with different colors or reflectivity levels of paintballs.  A bright LED in the rear of the IR3 grip frame is red when the Angel is live, and blinks if COPS is enabled. A single button press can de-activate or activate it during play - the only mode change that can be performed without the grip panels removed.  For players who don't like the COPS, maximum rate of fire can be adjusted from one to 20 balls per second.

Rice notes that he sees COPS and the anti chop features of other paintguns as a passing fad that will eventually no longer be necessary when loader technology advances to catch up with modern paintguns.

The ball detent in the IR3 has a softer spring than that of earlier Angel detents.  It is hoped that this decreased pressure on the ball will decreased the possibility of inducing unwanted spin, though this is an effect that has not yet been thoroughly tested and documented by WDP, and as such is not being touted as a performance improvement.

Ergonomically the IR3 is built to be held differently.  Rather than at a rearward angle like most paintguns, the IR3 grip frame comes out of the receiver at a 90 degree angle.  The angle in most grip frames is natural when holding a pistol, but according to Rice leads to contortion of the wrist when a paintgun is held up with the tank against the shoulder.  The IR3 grip frame was reviewed by orthopedic doctors during design, and thought to reduce the risk of repetitive stress injury because of the more natural hand position. 

Tied in with the change of the grip frame shape, the IR3 has a choice of three pivot positions for the trigger.  These allow the user to adjust trigger movement to the best feel for their preferred hand position.  The forward pivot point gives the trigger a slight upward swing, while the middle position gives more straight back movement.  The bottom scoop shape of the trigger can be pulled downward in a low grip position when the rear pivot point is used.  Forward and rear limit adjuster screws are used to custom tune trigger pull length.  Internally, the trigger now lines up with the trigger switch right at its end for more precise firing.

Another ergonomic change in the IR3 grip frame is the rear frame screw.  This frame screw is recessed on the IR3, so that it will not place pressure on the back of the shooter's thumb.

The trigger guard not only fully covers the two finger trigger area, but is extended downward in a cutlass style.  This is not a performance or ergonomics feature, but purely aesthetics.  The overall look of the IR3 frame led to it's nickname in WDP's development department - "space frame."

The IR3 trigger is also slightly wider than the the LCD trigger, to reduce the side by side movement found in its predecessor, giving a crisper feel.

The IR3 is equipped with a Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) battery, a feature that had been phased into the LCD Angel.  Because of the change from NiCAD to NiMH LCD Angel chargers couldn't be optimized for either battery type.  The IR3 charge is designed to only charge NiMH batteries, and can deliver a full charge in 2 hours.  According to WDP a full charge will power the IR3 turned on for up to 28 days, and or half a million shots.

Electronically, the IR3 is bristling with new features.  The LCD display is more versatile allowing full alphanumeric text.  Internally the driving software is the most complex designed for any paintgun to date.  Its feature set is not only oriented for player features, but has the future politics of tournament paintball in mind as well.

When in Live mode, the Angel alternates the text portion of its display between "Live" and "Angel."  Alternatively the word "Angel" can be reprogrammed to a user defined word, of up to 5 letters in length, to add an easy customization (John Rice reprogrammed an IR3 to read "Pig" during the interview for this article as a demonstration.)

Intelifeed is much more adjustable in the IR3 than previous Angel models.  In the LCD Angel, intelifeed activated only at rates of fire over 4 balls per second.  With the IR3, the intelifeed threshold can be set to turn on with each shot, at 2, 3 or 4 balls per second.  The duration of the signal can be set from 0.1 to 2 seconds.  This gives the intelifeed flexibility in allowing it to communicate electronically with either agitating loaders like the Revolution, Ricochet, or Mach 404, or loaders that must advance a ball with every shot, like the Warp Feed or HALO.  While intelifeed is supported in the IR3 electronics, the base model IR3 does not include an intelifeed port - that is available in an upgrade sight rail, and standard on the colored and carved versions of the IR3.

Of course valve dwell and maximum rate of fire settings are adjustable, but this adjustment can only be made with the grip panels open, locking it out for field security. 

The PIN code featured on the Angel LCD has been beneficial as an anti-theft device, but has also been a problem for Angel owners who forget their PIN, and have to have their circuit board reset by a factory tech.  The security PIN in the IR3 is designed more to protect against mis-use of the paintgun by a child in the Angel owner's home.  The code can be set by the user, or reset by opening the grip panels and resetting the circuit board to the factory defaults.

A rising concern in tournament paintball is electronic cheating - modifying paintguns to use illegal modes of fire.  As a first step to prevent physical tampering, the circuit board is packaged in a tamper resistant plastic pod.  If the seals on the pod are broken, the IR3's warranty is invalidated.  Additionally the operating software is protected by a rolling key encryption system to prevent installation of anything but the OEM software.  The circuit board itself is one of the most complex ever built for paintball, with four layers of circuitry sandwiched beneath surface mount components.

When changes are made to settings in the Angel, like with many electronic paintguns, they are recorded to memory.  If the power is cut off while data is being recorded, just like with a personal computer, there can become problems with corrupted memory.  Rice cites this as a source for many Angel LCD boards that are replaced because they are "bad."  The software in the IR3 has been made much more fault tolerant in this respect.  Configuration data is written in smaller segments, reducing the chance of an error.  It is also protected by checksum strings, which mathematically verify that the data read is correct.  Additionally, a history of previous settings is kept, so that if an error is detected in the stored data, the IR3 can recover data from the most recent backup.  

The grip vibrator is still how the Angel notifies the user that the game timer alarm has been activated.  The IR3 features not one, but three programmable alarms.  They can be set in duration from 1 to 30 minutes, with 30 second intervals.  Each of the three alarms gives a unique signal. 

Taking a proactive step toward paintgun maintenance, the IR3 gives its own maintenance recommendations based on how many shots have been fired.  These range from simple lubrication to replacement of wear items.  It is WDP's hope that by reminding users of their maintenance schedule, proper maintenance will be performed, and the user will see better reliability in the field. 

An Infrared communications port in the right side of the IR3 grip frame not only gives the IR3 its name but lends itself to a number of features.  Configuration of the IR3 does not require a cable like the LCD Angel.  A laptop computer with infrared port, or Handspring palmtop personal data appliance can be used for programming.  A complete set-up can be automatically "dumped" by IR from one IR3 to another, enabling a team to easily make sure all of their Angels are operating with the same parameters.

The IR port is also used for a fun feature, sending text messages.  Messages can be written on a computer or Handspring and loaded into one of the IR3's four "message book" memory banks.  A number of stock messages are preprogrammed.  A player can send a select message from the message books, and then send it to anyone who's IR3 is in "fetch" mode.  Due to limitations in transmission distance, and the fact that the IR3 has to be switched to safe mode to communicate, there are not expected to be any conflicts with the NPPL's rule prohibiting communication devices on field.  Looking to the future of rule enforcement, the IR3 transmits it's electronic serial number, and current mode settings each time it is fired.  A referee could carry a Handspring on field, to verify that a player is using a legal mode during game play.

One menu item in the IR3 display, listed as "HUD" drew only a "No comment.  That is for a future feature we can not discuss yet" reply from Rice.  As HUD is typically used in the aviation industry to refer to heads up display, some have speculated that a goggle display is in the works, but WDP remains tight-lipped as to its meaning and purpose.

The electronic 14 way valve is smaller than that in the LCD Angel, and installed in a reversed position.  This is going to give more flexibility down the road to airsmiths, as there is more metal that can be carved and removed around the sight rail.

The ram and snap ring assembly of the IR3 is shorter than the Angel LCD ram, and like the 14 way, not backward compatible with previous models. The IR3 bolt is nearly identical to LCD bolts, with the exception of a slot milled in the bottom to provide clearance for the tip of the COPS linkage rod.  Existing Angel LCD bolts could be easily modified by an airsmith to fit an IR3, and IR3 bolts will work properly in an Angel LCD.

IR3 grip frames are fully compatible as a retrofit for Angel LCDs.  In the center of the IR3 receiver is a diverter plate that makes a gas path swerve off to the side, providing room for the COPS linkage bar.  Because this plate is not found in the Angel LCD (and would not be a practical retrofit) the COPS feature would not be available on an Angel LCD equipped with the new grip and electronics.  The gated feed neck is backwards compatible with all angel models.

The IR3 represents more of a refinement of the Angel design than a radical change.  Its key new features are centered around increasing reliability and the player concentrating more on their game than their gun.  Other features, like the customization of the LCD display and text messaging are purely for fun.  A number of pro players from Dynasty, Ground Zero, and Avalanche field tested the IR3 at the 2002 Diablo Mardi Gras open with positive feedback.  The unusual grip angle has drawn a lot of questions from players who first see it, but in general has had a better reception once they have a chance to hold and feel it.
 


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