Pentathlon GB uses and shares defence technology to test laser pistols
Scientists and engineers from BAE Systems have been applying defence and security technology to help the British Modern Pentathlon team to evaluate their high-tech laser pistols, which were introduced at the beginning of the 2011 season, replacing traditional air pistols.
Subsequent changes in training programmes and the specifications of the laser pistols have presented athletes and coaches throughout the sport with technical challenges. A key difference compared with air pistols is that lasers leave no physical mark on the target: scoring is entirely electronic. In addition, with complex electronic components any malfunctioning – actual or potential - is more difficult to spot.
As part of its Technology Partnership with UK Sport, scientists from BAE Systems adapted laser systems originally used to protect aircraft from hostile attack in a series of bespoke laboratory tests and examined how the laser pistols performed, including tests on power output, beam profile and laser pulse duration.
The BAE Systems team created a mobile laser pistol evaluation device called ‘ULTeMo’, which athletes can take to competitions, to help with last minute checks and to give athletes 100% confidence in the new technology. To use this system athletes simply align the pistol in the device and fire a single shot. The ULTeMo device immediately gives an indication how well the laser is performing, measuring the strength of the laser pulse.
BAE Systems’ test results showed that the laser pistols used by the British pentathletes were performing correctly and to specification, which has alleviated technical concerns among Pentathlon GB’s athletes and their coaches. Testing also assessed whether environmental conditions such as moisture, temperature and sunlight affect the reliability of the lasers.
Jan Bartu, Pentathlon GB’s performance director, has publicly thanked UK Sport for its engagement with and funding of BAE Systems’ assistance with the laser technology: “This test process removes one of the enduring concerns for athletes - that some unseen technical problem may affect their shooting. It means that Britain’s pentathletes are able to enter competitions with full confidence in their equipment.”
Bartu has decided to make the evaluation device available to all pentathletes competing in major competitions, no matter which country they are representing: "We would not be interested in winning a medal just because someone else’s laser equipment did not work properly on the day: that would be a step too far in my view."
Pentathlon GB will be offering the use of the evaluation device to any competing athletes at major international competitions moving forwards.
He added: “BAE Systems deserves full recognition for a very good job - from us and from the sport in general.”
Kelvin Davies, BAE Systems project leader of the UK Sport Technology Partnership, said: “With experts in laser technology and optics and a suite of laboratory facilities, we have been able to help to verify the correct operation of the laser equipment.
“This kind of technology has never been available to the sport before. It allows the pentathletes to test their equipment in the minutes leading up to a competition, helping to eliminate any last minute concerns which could affect their performance - and potentially make the difference between winning and losing.
"The challenge in building this system lies in the fact that the laser pulse is very short. High speed electronics are needed to perform the analysis and provide the athlete with the result. The ULTeMo system offers a high degree of usability, portability and provides instantaneous results.”