Al Voth does a review for us on the Labradar. We have posted it here for your learning pleasure!
“Radar!” It’s a common cry, often heard from the spouse in the passenger seat. And it usually generates an immediate braking response, whether the driver is speeding or not. But besides being used to enforce speed limits, sports fans are also familiar with radar’s use in clocking the speeds of baseballs and hockey pucks. And now shooters can also be added to the list, because radar is being used to determine bullet velocity.
Knowing the speed of his fastball can give a pitcher bragging rights, but a shooter’s requirement for knowing bullet speed is more practical. Obviously, an accurate measurement of bullet speed is essential to predict a bullet’s trajectory, especially at longer ranges. But it also helps determine if handloads are safe and assists in predicting their accuracy potential. Additionally, some gunpowders are sensitive to temperature changes, while others are not. Careful measurements with a chronograph will help determine the kind of performance changes which can be expected from ammunition during temperature swings.
Chronograph technology is nothing new, its been around for many years. And neither is the use of radar to determine the speed of a moving object. After all, I was writing radar tickets in the 1970s. What is new is miniaturizing the equipment, increasing the sensitivity, developing the computing power and bringing the price down to a consumer level. That has now been accomplished by a Canadian company called Infinition. They are the first to bring a consumer-level chronograph to market using Doppler radar to measure bullet speed. But notice I said “consumer-level.” Because scientific and military grade radar chronographs have been around for a long time. I’ve used units costing $100,000, and while Infinition makes those too, their consumer model, called LabRadar, costs about $550 (US). Add a full suite of accessories and you’ll be close to $750 (US). I’ve been using one of their units over the last few months and I believe it’s going to change how we measure bullet speed.
How it Works
When we talk about Doppler radar we’re paying homage to Christian Doppler, the individual who first proposed the theory on which it works, back in 1842. Radar of this type sends a microwave signal at a specific frequency, and when the signal strikes an object, it bounces back. If the object is stationary, the frequency is the same as what was transmitted. However, if the object is moving, a frequency shift occurs in the reflected signal. The radar unit measures the frequency difference and computes the speed of the moving object. This frequency shift is illustrated in sound energy as well, and heard whenever a vehicle with a siren approaches and passes us. At the moment it passes, the pitch of the siren changes. The reason is a change in frequency, called the Doppler shift.
In use, the LabRadar chronograph detects the gunshot and in response sends out a burst of microwave energy. Some of that energy strikes the butt end of the speeding bullet and is reflected back to the chronograph. The frequency of the reflected signal is measured, compared to the transmitted frequency and bullet speed computed. But it not only computes muzzle velocity, this chronograph can determine bullet speed at multiple points in its travel, to a maximum distance of about 125 meters.
The main LabRadar unit measures about 10×12 inches and in use, sits beside the rifle being tested. Nothing attaches to the rifle, nor does anything need to be set up downrange. Even lighting doesn’t matter. The instrument is powered by six AA batteries or by an external rechargeable power pack. The display screen, eight control buttons and an indicator light face the shooter, while the downrange side hides the transmitter/receiver behind a panel of smooth plastic. It would be nice if all the shooter had to do was hit the power button and start shooting, but it’s not quite that simple.
Prior to use, the instrument needs to be programmed. This includes selecting the approximate velocity range of the projectile, the amount of offset from the rifle’s muzzle, the distances at which measurement will occur, the triggering source, the triggering level and other factors. This may sound complicated, and it is a little, but only if you’ll be shooting a lot of different projectiles; including arrows, paintballs, pellets and BB’s. If all a person intends to shoot is centrefire rifles, one setting, which the instrument remembers, will do the trick. In that case, using the LabRadar system requires little more than powering it up and shooting. About the only extra step is two pushes on a button which arms the unit and starts it “listening” for the muzzle blast which will trigger it.
When I first started using the system, I was concerned that other persons shooting on the range with me, would trigger the LabRadar. But this didn’t happen. To be triggered the instrument seems to need some of the shock wave from the muzzle blast. The sound alone does not trigger a reading. That makes it critical to position the unit in the right location relative to the firearm’s muzzle. I found small calibre handguns and rifles need the muzzle immediately beside the instrument, while big guns with muzzle brakes must have the muzzle about one foot in front of the unit. The shooting benches on my range are too small to position the LabRadar far enough forward, so I built an extension with a piece of scrap plywood, holding it to the bench with two clamps. This also allows me to slide the instrument back and forth to get the right muzzle distance for the wide variety of firearms I’m usually shooting.
Obviously, airguns and archery gear don’t have much muzzle blast, so the manufacturer has built in other means of triggering. One of them is a small accessory microphone which can be plugged in and placed beside the muzzle of an air-gun. It works great, but it’s so sensitive I found it will trigger when a conventional firearm is shot nearby. Another provided option is a constant emitted signal, which, when interrupted by a silent projectile like an arrow, triggers the unit.
Once collected, displaying the data is critical to effectively using it, and I found the LabRadar system to be relatively intuitive in its approach. Each shot is displayed individually, including velocity at each measured distance. A series of shots are grouped together to provide an average velocity, extreme spread and standard deviation. Calculation for kinetic energy and power factor are also given, as is the date and time of each shot. This information is stored internally and accessed through the display screen, or it can be downloaded into a computer for display via Microsoft Excel. There’s also an SD card slot in the unit and I found this the handiest option to move data to my computer.
Who’s it For?
There’s no doubt this is a major development in chronograph instrumentation for the consumer. However, the price tag is still likely too much for all but the most die-hard techno-shooter. Even so, the LabRadar instrument provides a level of accuracy, convenience and information which has not been available until now. Competition shooters generally require a higher degree of accuracy than hunters, so I see them flocking to it first. For the budget minded, sharing a unit between several people is a viable option.
LabRadar is starting to change the way I shoot. Mainly because I can now so easily chronograph every shot I fire, whether developing a hand-load, testing factory ammo or even while practicing. I’ve already found some out-of-group flyers which I previously would have dismissed as the result of poor shooting technique. But the LabRadar unit told me the velocity was markedly different, meaning it was my hand-loading technique, not my trigger technique, which was at fault. But, however, it’s used, I think the LabRadar system is a game changer, ushering in a new era of chronograph technology.