Laser technology could help UK pentathletes to evaluate pistols

Laser technology designed by BAE Systems to protect aircraft from attack has been modified to assist the British Modern Pentathlon in evaluating its laser pistols.

According to the defence company, laser pistols 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 are said to 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 in a series of 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 confidence in the new technology.

To use this system, athletes align the pistol in the device and fire a single shot. The ULTeMo device then gives an indication of 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, said: ‘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.’

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.

‘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 and portability, and provides instantaneous results.’