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Empire RF Transmitter Link
In 2007, the HALO/Reloader line of loaders evolved into the Magna Drive loader system which added a new loader body, magnetic clutch system, higher sustained feed rates and a radio frequency (RF) link system. The radio based link system is designed to allow the loader to be activated by a direct radio link to the marker, rather than by the sound the marker makes when it fires.
The advantage to a radio link, is that it is triggered by the electrical signal used to fire the marker, at a more consistent point in the firing cycle than sound activation, allowing the loader settings to be adjusted more precisely for best operation with a particular marker.
A radio receiver is integrated in to the Magna Drive's control board, so it is RF-ready out of the box. The Magna Drive RF Loader Board is also available by itself to be installed as an upgrade into HALO and Reloader loaders. Whether the board is in a Magna Drive or an upgraded loader, something has to send it a signal for the RF link to work.
The RF Transmitter Link is a small circuit board, 1 inch by ½ inch in size. A wire antenna about an inch long wraps around one end of the board. It is designed to be wired in parallel to an electronic marker's solenoid. The small size is important, in order to allow the board to be wedged into the compact spaces available within a marker.
The same current supply that is used to trip a sear or open a solenoid valve is also used to power the RF Transmitter Link. It needs no controls, power switch or programming because its operation is so simple. When it has power, it transmits a signal – that's it. Since it only has power when the solenoid has power, it transmits through the entire dwell time of the marker, and is silent the rest of the time.
Because it draws very little power itself, the transmitter has very little effect on the operation of the marker, where it is residing. During testing for review, the transmitter had no noticeable effect on marker operation or battery use.
The transmitter board is wired for “universal power” meaning that it does not matter which power lead is negatively biased and which is positive. This makes installation much simpler.
Included with the board is a set of three connector cables, and two “Y” splitter cables with different sized connectors. Which cables get used, and how they are used, depends on the marker that will play hose to the transmitter. Where a Y-cable has connectors that match the plug used for the marker's solenoid valve, it can be installed to tap in to the solenoid circuit, and the transmitter's connector cable then plugs into the Y-cable.
For circuit boards that have a loader activation port with the correct sized connector, the transmitter's cable can plug straight in.
For other circuit boards where the solenoid connection is soldered straight to the board, or the kit has no matching connector, a little electronics work is in order. For a player with no soldering experience, this might be a job best suited to their local airsmith or a friend experienced in working with electronics.
The Matrix LCD receiver used as a test bed for WARPIG Ballistic Labs standardized loader testing fell into this last category. Although the Matrix LCD circuit board used a plug connector for its solenoid valve, the size of the connector was larger than is more common on newer markers, and did not fit either of the Y-cables.
To install the transmitter on the test rig, one of the transmitter cables was cut in half. The ends of its wires were stripped and then soldered to the back of the circuit board at the connection points used for the solenoid valve. The process took less than 5 minutes, including time for the soldering iron to warm up.
A small strip of double-sided foam tape was used to provide insulation between the Matrix circuit board and the RF Transmitter Board. Although not covered in the Magna Drive manual, this seemed to be a good precaution, as the end of the antenna wire was uninsulated, so its signal could be weakened if it came into contact with grounded circuits or components inside the grip frame.
When asked about the advisability of insulating the board, Simon Stevens, the director of research and development for KEE Action Sports recommended the use of double sided tape, or even electrical insulation tape to keep the transmitter secure in its position, commenting that if the board is wrapped in tape, the antenna should be left outside the wrapping.
Test installations were also performed on an Infinity Legend and Angel One. In both of these markers, the Y-cables matched the sizes of the connectors on the circuit board and solenoid valve, so the installation was literally plug-and-play.
For the Legend, the transmitter tucked easily behind the solenoid valve, with the connectors needing to be carefully positioned and tucked so that the grip frame had room to secure in place.
On the Angel One, the board lay behind the battery on top of the circuit board's vacu-formed insulating cover. The space between the circuit board and grip panel left plenty of room for the cable connectors..
Operation of the loader with the RF Link is the same as without, simply turn the loader on. The loader's LED flashes green to indicate that it is running and waiting for sound activation. When an RF Transmitter is fired the loader switches to a blinking blue LED to indicate RF operation. Because each RF transmitter sends the same signal, there is no need to program the loader to identify a particular marker. The system is ready to go.
Although they are partially obscured by the cover plate on the rear of the loader, on clear-bodied hoppers, the small LEDs on the RF receiver daughterboard are visible. One is green and the other red. The green LED indicates that an RF signal is being received, while the red shows that the daughter board is sending a signal to the main circuit board. This information should be rarely, if ever needed by a player, but it could come in handy for an airsmith diagnosing RF configuration issues or field-damaged equipment.
When operating in RF mode, the loader will also pulse momentarily every few seconds, as a way of ensuring that tension is maintained on the spring inside the drive cone.
In testing, the radio signal carried reliably at distances out to about a foot and a half, and after two feet was unable to activate the loader. Because any transmitter can activate any loader, this limited range is important, otherwise players using sound activation would have to worry about players with RF kits causing their loader to switch modes.
In the rare instance where two players have a case of bunker-love and are tucked together so tight that a loader might have its mode changed unintentionally, a manual over-ride lets the player get their loader back into sound activation mode.
Pressing the power button three times in quick succession switches the loader back to sound mode and locks it there, so that it can't be accidentally switched over. This is perfect for a player who will be close to an RF equipped player, but doesn't want their loader to switch modes.
Tapping the power button once simply switches the loader to sound activation. This can be useful for RF equipped players as well. In sound activated mode, the motor does not pulse at all unless it hears a sound or picks up a signal from an RF transmitter which causes it to switch modes. A player in a scenario game might want to conserve battery life by not pulsing the loader while they stand guard duty at a base, or hike to an objective. In sound mode the loader remains ready, and kicks over to RF operation when they fire their first shot.
To see what difference the RF link made to the Magna Drive Loader's performance, the loader was run through the same tests used during the WARPIG Magna Drive review, with the speed setting at the default value of four, and again run up to its maximum of 6.
The 10-shot burst test, determines the maximum sustained rate at which the loader can feed paint to the Matrix LCD test receiver over a 10-shot burst. This should not be confused with the maximum rate the loader can achieve – it is how fast the loader can feed, and keep feeding over 10 shots, after starting from a dead-stop.
At both speed settings the Magna Drive loader fed all 10 shots in each of three trials at rates up to 22 balls per second. At 24 bps, with a speed setting of 4, two trials fed all ten shots, but one missed a ball. The same happened with the speed set at six. Testing at 26 bps with the RF link, neither speed setting passed the 2 out of three perfect 10-shot burst criteria needed to be pass at that level – however, the speed setting of four did show more consistent performance. With the speed set to four 9 balls were fed in each of the 3 10-shot strings. When the speed was raised to 6, the results were 10, 7 and 8 balls fed. With the RF link, both speed settings resulted in the same high-score of 24 bps, matching the loader's sound driven performance when the speed was set to 6.
In the Ramping burst test, each test string consists of 4 shots fired at at 10 bps followed by 10 at the test rate. This test still tests for maximum sustained rates of fire, but more closely simulates the way real players shoot – working up to their maximum rate, which gives a loader time to get moving.
In the ramping test Magna Drive Loader pushed paint into the Matrix LCD breech even faster. With the speed setting at 4, it fed perfectly up through 22bps. At 24bps it fed, 13, 12, and 13 shots out of each 14-shot burst. This was comparable to the performance of the loader using sound activation with a speed setting of 6. For full test result data, click here.
When the speed setting was turned up to 6, the Magna Drive Loader showed what it could do, feeding perfectly up through 26 bps – beating both the Magna Drive's best sound-activated score, and all other loaders previously put though the same test.
Interestingly, when sound-activated, the Magna Drive Loader gave its best ramping test performance with the motor speed set to 4. When using the RF Transmitter Link, best performance was achieved with the loader speed set at its maximum rate of 6.
After having read the WARPIG review of the Magna Drive Loader, Simon Stevens commented that high-speed photography research during the loader's design process showed that driving the motor faster than is needed can cause the magnetic clutch to slip too often, creating a reduction in performance. According to Stevens the best feed performance can be attained by adjusting the loader to suit the marker with which it is being used, not simply running the motor speed up to its limit.
The RF Transmitter Link for the Magna Drive Loader is compact, making for simple installation on a wide variety of electronic markers. In testing it proved a reliable trigger for the loader, and delivered a higher peak performance level under controlled testing.
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