World leading manufacturer of shooting simulators since year 2002
Interview of Tommy Andersson, founder and former CEO @MarksmanTrainingSystems. Now Tommy is working as our great CTO.
The company was started by me (Tommy Andersson) in 2001 with the objective to produce a training system for shotgun shooting, and in particular clay shooting that would function as a useful tool for practice and coaching. Before the company was founded I made a survey of the market for existing shooting simulators and, with the exception for military systems, only found few: a couple of models for police training and one primitive system for clay and bird shooting, both based on outdated animation and projection technologies. Formal and informal contacts with the target group I had in mind, shooting coaches and associations of active sport shooters and hunters, convinced me that that there was a demand for a training system where basic shooting skills could be practiced and where the level of difficulty could be adapted to the individual shooter. A contributing factor to the interest from the hunting community was new legislation requiring hunters to pass a theoretical and practical test to acquire a gun for hunting.
With my background as an electronics and software engineer, I saw the possibilities to design a high quality shooting simulator using modern animation and projection technologies. I consulted specialists in optoelectronics to find a way to determine the pointing direction of a moving platform (the sensor that sits on the barrel) with the necessary accuracy. With a directional accuracy of +/- 2 milliradians and an accuracy of timing of the measurement (the shot) better than one millisecond, we would be able to estimate the hit position in relation to a target with a precision about ten times better than the pointing and shooting accuracy of a very good shot.
The design we finally arrived at involved a novel way to register the pointing direction of a gun and its movement before and after firing, based on video capture of the projected target combined with gyroscopic data indicating the movement of the gun. The method was patented in Europe, USA and several other countries. The essential design criteria were dictated by requirements from sport shooters as well as hunters. Right from start the design was influenced by representatives from the Swedish Hunters Association as well as prominent Swedish sport shooters. In addition to perfectly realistic scenarios and the best possible visual experience, the system should provide diagnostic feedback which could be used to analyze not only the final result, the hit position, but the movements of the gun prior to firing. “There is a difference between a good hit and a good shot”, I was told more than once by Jocke Smålänning, a winner of some 30 Swedish championships as well as European championships and a great source of inspiration during the initial design phase. Anyone can get a good hit, but consistently good shots can only be achieved if you have a good technique. For a coach, the problem many times is to convince the client about a problem with the technique: too slow or too fast swing, inadvertent movements just before firing – errors which may not show up as bad hits every time, but will lower the average hit percentage over time.
During the development of the simulator it became obvious that a very important difference between shooting practice at the shooting ground and shooting in the simulator is how easy it is to use the replay of a shot to identify things like stopping the swing, lifting your head just before firing, etc. Such feedback is easy to understand when it is presented as a slow motion replay and instrumental in convincing a client about faults unaware to him. Soon after launching the ST-2 simulator, customer requirements made us develop a number of rifle disciplines. By now there is a wide repertoire of both running targets and 3D animated game animals.
The ISSF clay shooting disciplines have been designed in close cooperation with international clay shooting teams. It is a great inspiration to see Olympic contestants winning medals and claiming the simulator contributed to the success. An important source of information about external ballistics was research reports obtained from the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC). Such data is the basis for estimation of outcomes of shots in terms of probability for breaking clays and for calculation of lethality at bird shooting.
Our customers are a diverse group. It includes people who use it primarily for training: national clay shooting teams, hunters associations and clubs, shooting academies, gymnasiums; several customers use it mostly for entertainment: sports bars, cruise ships. etc.; it is used in hunting equipment retail stores to provide the extra service of letting the customer test a gun or a sight before actually buying it. Finally there are a number of simulators installed in private homes. By now, 13 years after the first delivery, the simulator is delivered to about 140 customers in some 40 countries around the globe.
THE STORY BEHIND
I have been a keen hunter all my life starting at a very young age following my father on hunting trips every weekend hunting for roe deer, hare, moose, fox. Later I took up target shooting with rifle and even won a few competitions. When I was about 15 years of age, the Swedish championship in Skeet shooting was held in my home town and was won by a guy from my town. He shot one round with 25 hits. It made me fascinated by clay shooting and I decided I should try it. My first visit to the shooting ground however was such an embarrassment that I never went there again. The specialists who were there broke almost every clay, I did not break a single one. People around me gave me different advice but they seemed to have different opinions whether I was shooting above, below, in front of (probably not) or behind the clay. I think the fact that there was no way to definitely determine where my shots ended up in relation to the target presented a problem that I sooner or later wanted to solve. The product that I envisioned was an indicator showing the hit position at clay shooting – not simulated but real clay shooting at the shooting ground.
In the mid-nineties, many years later, I had the opportunity to pursue this idea. A hit position indicator for clay shooting (RT-4) was actually designed and even demonstrated for potential users, representatives for clay shooters and hunters. A Swedish program to support inventors in the early phase of development called NUTEK financed part of the development cost. This product never took off, mainly for the reason that it was not very suitable for use in the field. Components at the time, and in particular cameras and processors, were bulky and unfit for mobile use. So the prototype never matured into a useful product. What happened when it was demonstrated was that representatives from the hunting and sport shooting organizations told me that they would rather like to be able to practice indoors, independent of weather and time of day – in other words, they were asking for a simulator. Two hunters associations even had plans to purchase a simulator they had been looking at: a laser based military model with slide projectors to project the scenarios. Knowing that we had a technical solution to the problem how to determine shooting direction in the hit position indicator, and that it could be adapted for use with projected images, an important part of the design work was done. We had to add animation of targets and diagnostics functions to show results, but this was a job we found doable in reasonable time. We were able to convince the two organisations to sign orders for our more modern – and cost effective – solution, although not really finished at the time. These first two systems were delivered in the year 2002. The sales soon picked up speed, and now the company is well established as the world leading producer of high quality shooting simulators for sport shooting and hunting.
For me personally the simulator project, which has included all the steps from the initial idea to a finished product: a simulator used by thousands of people all over the world, has been a fantastic journey. It is true that it has has been hard work some of the time but it has been worth every effort.
A project like this is a team work. I have been lucky enough to work with inspiring and dedicated people from the start. I take this opportunity to express my gratitude to all those who have contributed to the success of the product and the company: people in the team who designed hardware and software together with me, and all of you who have come up with ideas how to improve the system and make it more fun to use. After all – shooting, with live ammunition or in a simulator – first of all should be fun!
This is supposed to be “the story behind”. Forgive me for saying this about the present and the future:
The ST-2 simulator is the leading simulator for sport shooting and hunting in the world – and we intend to keep it that way!