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Smart laser tag


Laser tag is still a niche market, but it caught up a little bit in the last years. There are few things before becoming mainstream.

Even though you can play it virtually anywhere, either in the office or in the woods, it is mostly spread in the arenas. And I think the problem is the equipment. It is bulky, hard to set up and most of the times needs a central computer to work at its full potential.

Of course, there are outdoor versions too. They are built around a microcontroller with an uploaded software. Here the problem is that we’re having limited computing capabilities and as a consequence limited features too. Lately, on Kickstarter, there are projects, where the guns are built using an Arduino-like board and sometimes even a touch screen. Extended capabilities and features.

Another issue are the sensors. A laser tag system is practically made of a gun and a set of sensors. The gun using an infrared LED emits a ray which, if it is intercepted by a sensor, it is considered a hit. When the “life” points are completely drained, the gun works no more. Sensors are usually small and mounted on vests, headbands or guns. Why I say that this is an issue? First of all, if it they’re mounted on the gun, this is not too realistic, right? And also the sensors are directly connected to a gun. Again not too realistic – you cannot have two guns, you cannot pick up a killed enemy gun. So it will be nice if you can disconnect the gun from the sensors.

And when it comes to guns you have a limited amount of models. As the systems are incompatible, building many gun models is not feasible.

Another thing is the price of such a system. The cheapest will usually go over $100 a piece.

My idea is that a very realistic, loaded with features and cheap laser tag system can be built. To address the issue of the microcontroller (and its limited computing capability) and the price, the idea of using a smartphone instead is obvious. Nowadays, almost everyone has a smartphone and this will greatly reduce the final cost of the system (we will not count the smartphone price, as you already have it).

Then we can easily address the gun-sensor connection. A gun will have a Bluetooth module, a microcontroller (much smaller) and an infrared LED. And a battery, lens and two buttons: trigger and connect. The connect button allows to connect a gun to a Practically a gun will transmit through the LED whatever it receives from the smartphone through the Bluetooth receiver. There is still a microcontroller, but it is “thinner”, smaller and cheaper.

This way a gun can be handled by more than one player, of course, not at the same time. And the gun can be built as a module that can be mounted as a scope on any existing guns, like an airsoft gun. So you also have a wide selection and even blow-back guns.

And the sensors, mounted on the vest, headband or both, will connect directly to the smartphone and will be the ones to control the “life” points. It can connect to the smartphone through Bluetooth or USB, but then the smartphone must support USB OTG (which is becoming more and more frequent). And this will be solving another issue: battery. I know that the smartphone usually has a smaller battery life, but external power banks are now cheaper and common and many will most probably already have one. For convenience you can even have the smartphone on your favorite armband. So the sensor vest, maybe connected with a headband, will be just a network of infrared receiver with different circuits if you want different weight of hits. This way the system allows head shots for the most skilful ones. The vest can be connected only to one smartphone and if the “life” points are drained, then the app will declare the player dead who will be able to transmit to the gun.

Now going back to the laser tag system as a smartphone app. What new features does this bring?

Practically there’s no smartphone without GPS. Now imagine that you can have a map on which you can see the position of your troops (and even their “life” points status), you can launch virtual airstrikes and even set up virtual proximity mines (with friendly fire or not) . It does bring new dimensions to the game, isn’t it? And if the smartphone is actually a Google Glass-like device, augmented reality will open new opportunities. You can have this on a smartphone too, but, if not mounted somehow on the gun, it is harder to handle to actually view the augmented reality..

New games can be easily invented, like capture the hill or capture the flag (virtual flags). If you pass a certain area, you capture a flag and a notification can be sent to everyone. Even games like escorting prisoners are easy within reach.

Customization now becomes the sweetest part of such a system. Beside the “life” points, you can have armour. Or doctors. Or prisoners. Or you can even do virtual drop-off that can be picked up by players by just going in the exact area. They can contain drugs (life points), armour, shells.

And to have it all, if you build such a system in a plug-in-able way, then anyone can develop new guns, games or any other feature and share them with the entire community. Imagine that you use PhoneGap and everyone can develop a plugin using JavaScript. A web laser combat game – just wow!

Now to talk a little bit about the price, production price I mean.web laser

Laser tag is still a niche market, but it caught up a little bit in the last years. There are few things before becoming mainstream.

Even though you can play it virtually anywhere, either in the office or in the woods, it is mostly spread in the arenas. And I think the problem is the equipment. It is bulky, hard to set up and most of the times needs a central computer to work at its full potential.

Of course, there are outdoor versions too. They are built around a microcontroller with an uploaded software. Here the problem is that we’re having limited computing capabilities and as a consequence limited features too. Lately, on Kickstarter, there are projects, where the guns are built using an Arduino-like board and sometimes even a touch screen. Extended capabilities and features.

Another issue are the sensors. A laser tag system is practically made of a gun and a set of sensors. The gun using an infrared LED emits a ray which, if it is intercepted by a sensor, it is considered a hit. When the “life” points are completely drained, the gun works no more. Sensors are usually small and mounted on vests, headbands or guns. Why I say that this is an issue? First of all, if it they’re mounted on the gun, this is not too realistic, right? And also the sensors are directly connected to a gun. Again not too realistic – you cannot have two guns, you cannot pick up a killed enemy gun. So it will be nice if you can disconnect the gun from the sensors.

And when it comes to guns you have a limited amount of models. As the systems are incompatible, building many gun models is not feasible.

Another thing is the price of such a system. The cheapest will usually go over $100 a piece.

My idea is that a very realistic, loaded with features and cheap laser tag system can be built. To address the issue of the microcontroller (and its limited computing capability) and the price, the idea of using a smartphone instead is obvious. Nowadays, almost everyone has a smartphone and this will greatly reduce the final cost of the system (we will not count the smartphone price, as you already have it).

Then we can easily address the gun-sensor connection. A gun will have a Bluetooth module, a microcontroller (much smaller) and an infrared LED. And a battery, lens and two buttons: trigger and connect. The connect button allows to connect a gun to a Practically a gun will transmit through the LED whatever it receives from the smartphone through the Bluetooth receiver. There is still a microcontroller, but it is “thinner”, smaller and cheaper.

This way a gun can be handled by more than one player, of course, not at the same time. And the gun can be built as a module that can be mounted as a scope on any existing guns, like an airsoft gun. So you also have a wide selection and even blow-back guns.

And the sensors, mounted on the vest, headband or both, will connect directly to the smartphone and will be the ones to control the “life” points. It can connect to the smartphone through Bluetooth or USB, but then the smartphone must support USB OTG (which is becoming more and more frequent). And this will be solving another issue: battery. I know that the smartphone usually has a smaller battery life, but external power banks are now cheaper and common and many will most probably already have one. For convenience you can even have the smartphone on your favorite armband. So the sensor vest, maybe connected with a headband, will be just a network of infrared receiver with different circuits if you want different weight of hits. This way the system allows head shots for the most skilful ones. The vest can be connected only to one smartphone and if the “life” points are drained, then the app will declare the player dead who will be able to transmit to the gun.

Now going back to the laser tag system as a smartphone app. What new features does this bring?

Practically there’s no smartphone without GPS. Now imagine that you can have a map on which you can see the position of your troops (and even their “life” points status), you can launch virtual airstrikes and even set up virtual proximity mines (with friendly fire or not) . It does bring new dimensions to the game, isn’t it? And if the smartphone is actually a Google Glass-like device, augmented reality will open new opportunities. You can have this on a smartphone too, but, if not mounted somehow on the gun, it is harder to handle to actually view the augmented reality..

New games can be easily invented, like capture the hill or capture the flag (virtual flags). If you pass a certain area, you capture a flag and a notification can be sent to everyone. Even games like escorting prisoners are easy within reach.

Customization now becomes the sweetest part of such a system. Beside the “life” points, you can have armour. Or doctors. Or prisoners. Or you can even do virtual drop-off that can be picked up by players by just going in the exact area. They can contain drugs (life points), armour, shells.

And to have it all, if you build such a system in a plug-in-able way, then anyone can develop new guns, games or any other feature and share them with the entire community. Imagine that you use PhoneGap and everyone can develop a plugin using JavaScript. A web laser combat game – just wow!

Now to talk a little bit about the price, production price I mean. The gun module has a Bluetooth chip, a microchip, an infrared LED, a lens, a battery enclosure and two buttons. The parts are all probably under $40. The sensor vest and headband have infrared receivers, microchip and USB connector. All together under $40. So you have a full featured laser combat system, easy extendable through software plug-ins for under $100. But this without counting the smartphone, power bank and software. But if the latter would be a community open-source effort … Maybe soon …

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