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The Ranger is a self-contained, portable, automated pop-up target system.  It is designed to be easily assembled from a kit, and use off-the-shelf components, to make it the most affordable system of its kind on the market.

Key features:

  • Controlled by an inexpensive, easy to program Arduino Uno microcontroller.
  • Currently included default program waits in the down position for a random time between two values, then pops up for a random time between to other values.  For example, wait down 2-8 seconds, then pop up for 5-10 seconds.
  • New programs are modified and uploaded from any computer with a USB port.
  • Pneumatically powered via common paintball CO2 tank.  Paintball CO2 tanks are inexpensive, and can be filled many places in almost any town.
  • Target will pop up 300-400 times using a single 20oz. CO2 tank, which costs only a couple dollars to refill.
  • Can also run off more expensive compressed air and nitrogen paintball tanks.
  • Easily adapted to run from a standard air compressor line.
  • Target pops up in less than 4/10ths of a second, via pneumatic pressure, and falls in less than 6/10ths of a second, via mechanical springs.
  • Pneumatics are strong enough to pop the target up in wind.  The plastic silhouette will bend before the pneumatics give.
  • Uses inexpensive standard military tall "E" (NSN: 6920-00-071-4780), and short "F" (NSN: 6920-00-071-4589), target silhouettes.  Each silhouette is good for hundreds, sometimes thousands, of rounds.
  • Easily adapted to other types of targets, such as archery 3D foam animals.
  • Available made from inexpensive outdoor-grade plywood, for non-firearms use or use with barriers (e.g. sandbags), or made from steel for direct defense against high power firearms ammunition.
  • Individual components are common, inexpensive, and easy to replace, should they become damaged.

Why the Ranger?

Before the Ranger, the cheapest automated targets available cost thousands of dollars minimum, and were combined with overly-elaborate control systems.  Through careful design, and by drawing on common components from a variety of industries, we have created a fully-automated pop-up target system that is flexible, portable, and less expensive.  The price drops from thousands to hundreds of dollars.  This puts fun, effective training and scenario shooting in reach of everyone.

How is the Ranger controlled?

The "brains" of the Ranger are an Arduino microcontroller.   The Arduino is powerful, flexible, computing tool that is commonly used for lots of robotics, automation, and prototyping tasks.  There is plenty of expansion capability left to add custom sensors (e.g. electronic tripwires), feedback (e.g. LCD screen), and communications (e.g. wireless triggering and control).  The program that the Ranger comes with initially stored in the Arduino raises and lowers the target at random intervals, to add fun and a touch of the unexpected to shooting and training.  No programming is ever needed in order to just continue using the default program, and future updates and complete pre-made programs can be loaded with no programming knowledge.  The settings for the down position and up position delays can be quickly modified with a computer, without programming skills.  For the adventurous, writing your own programs provides almost limitless possibilities.

What makes the Ranger move?

The target is physically lifted by a simple, powerful, and robust pneumatics system.  The piston develops over 170 pounds of force at 100 PSI of pressure, which exerts over 40 foot-pounds of torque on the pivot/axle.  Even moderate winds won't keep the target down.  In fact, the plastic target silhouette will flex and bend over before the pneumatics will ever give out.  The system runs off about 100 PSI, which is considered low pressure, and is fed by a CO2 tank (about 850 PSI) though a regulator.  Carbon dioxide (CO2) is an efficiently stored gas, and is actually a liquid inside the tank.  CO2 paintballs tanks, such as though used by the Ranger, can be filled for about $3-7 at many local stores, such as welding suppliers and sporting goods retailers.  The tanks are inexpensive, so taking a few extras is a great way to extend your use of the Ranger.

How sturdy is the Ranger?

The frame of the Ranger was designed so that it can be made of either metal or inexpensive plywood.  Plywood offers a cheap solution in uses such as paintball and archery, where damage to the system isn't likely.  The plywood frame can also be used for firearms if the system is protected in another way, such as a berm, trench, sandbags, or metal deflector plate.  The metal  frame is available for maximum defense against damage from projectiles, and the front deflector is angled extremely low to afford maximum protection.

What Improvements are in Store for the Ranger?

Currently, the Ranger is autonomous and non-interactive.  It does not take cues on when to rise or fall, and does not sense impacts or respond.  We're testing methods that will eventually add inexpensive impact detection, most likely through sound or force monitoring.  These could prove to be as simple as a $30 component that you plug into the controller, and a free software update.  Wireless communications add-ons are also available for the microcontroller, which could allow future versions to be commanded remotely from a laptop or another device.  The idea is that upgrades should be simple and inexpensive to add, and optional.

07May2012 - The target's design is now in its 4th iteration, and I think this will be the final, release-worthy one.  The target can now hold up to 3 tanks, which will allow over 1000 actuations with the use of 2 additional tanks and hoses.  Many DIY'ers will be happy to know that we've decided to release the complete plans for the Ranger under an open-hardware license, so that anyone is free to build their own, if they choose!

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