Electronic trainer: Trace

This is a short presentation of the Trace Electronic Trainer System and of electronic trainers in general.

An electronic trainer is a helping tool for all precision shooting sports. It has two main functions: first is to analyze the shot process, and the second is to act as a virtual shooting range.

The idea of an electronic trainer is quite simple: attach a sensor on the gun and have it detect the target, so that the movement of the gun relative to the target can be tracked. In the initial electronic trainers, the sensor on the gun was an infrared camera while the target was emitting an infrared beam. On the current generation of electronic trainers, there is no more need for a special target device, while the sensor on the gun is a normal camera that “sees” the black circle of the target.

The movement of the gun relative to the target is displayed on a computer monitor as a line that keeps growing as the shooter moves the gun onto the target and fires. The shot is detected with a microphone that is included in the sensor that is attached to the gun. Of course, for dry fire, there is less noise, so the microphone must be calibrated to detect the soft click made in dry fire mode.

The current generation of electronic trainers can work indoors and outdoors, both with dry fire and live fire. They can be used with both pistols and rifles, for air guns and powder burning guns. In a live fire environment, the only limitation is for the sensor on the gun to be able to discern the target. 

Speaking of target discerning, this is one of the most problematic issues with this technology: the camera in the sensor must be able to positively identify the target. For this, the lighting on the target is crucial, and also focal length of the lens on the sensor, the background of the target and the lighting conditions around the target.

If the sensor cannot see the target, then it will not function correctly or will not function at all. A big problem in seeing the target correctly is flickering light. As you know, L.E.D. lights that are now commonly sold everywhere, are intermittent light sources that turn on and off at a high frequency. The electronic trainer sensor can see this flickering and that can lead to target acquisition problems.

Another great function of an electronic trainer is the ability to simulate longer shooting distances with shorter actual target distances. For this, a scaled down target can be printed and used at a shorter distance than the event would require. This works especially well for at home training, where a full 50 meter or 10 meter space is not available. The electronic trainer can be setup at a distance as short as 3 meters, and dry fire training can be conducted in the comfort of your room.

Now that we’ve talked about what an electronic trainer is, let’s talk about what to do with it. The first function is shot analysis. As the path of your gun barrel is drawn on screen and the moment of your shot is recorded, a number of statistics are computed and displayed. 

The most important data in this analysis is the trigger operation. The trace of your shot is displayed in multiple colors, with the last few milliseconds before the shot and a few seconds after the shot, drawn in different colors. This will enable the shooter to view how he squeezed the trigger, and how much the gun moved during and after that squeeze. Also, the line after the shot will display the quality of the follow through. Ideally, both of these lines should form a “ball of yarn” as it is called –  a circular pattern of movement around the center of the target, undisturbed by the trigger press. 

Other data that can be gleaned from the shooting trace are a plethora of statistical information about how stable the hold is, how long the hold is, the speed of the gun movement during the shot process, how centered on the actual target center the hold is, the percent of the hold inside of the 10 ring, and so on. It is a statistical aficionado’s wet dream, and also a very useful tool for a coach to see what is actually going on in a student’s shooting process.

The other function of the electronic trainer is to enable shooting at home. By using dry fire and reduced distance, a shooter can actually shoot a match on the electronic target at home, without sending any projectile down range. The electronic trainer detects the moment and direction of the gun at the moment of the shot, and can make an estimate of the point of impact on the target. Of course, this is an estimation, but it can get pretty close.

Trace Electronic Trainer:

And now about the actual electronic trainer that I use, the Trace Electronic Trainer. Trace is the latest player to join the electronic trainer market. A while back there were more, but as of the last few years only one player has emerged as the leading authority in electronic trainers: SCATT. They are a Russian company that have been producing the best electronic trainers. Trace is a brand new company based in Latvia that wants to challenge SCATT’s position of dominance. 

The Trace electronic trainer is part of the latest generation, with a camera as a sensor and no target device. Just attach the sensor to the gun and point it at a target, normal or scaled down.

The next step is installing the software on Windows PC. It can be downloaded freely from the trace website. Once the installation is done, connect the sensor cable to the PC, and start the application. You will need to register the app using the serial number on the sensor. 

After that, you have to setup the sensor settings. This is done automatically by pointing the gun at the target and press the “auto detect radiuses” button. The detection quality is displayed underneath the live feed of the target. If it is below 4/5, the lighting and / or position must be adjusted to improve detection quality.

Having completed the settings adjustments, training can begin. The first shot is the calibration shot. In a live fire environment, the shot can be moved to the actual position on the paper target. For dry fire environments, a guesstimate on the shot can be made. After that, the training can proceed for as much time as needed. Each virtual shot will be recorded in the application to be reviewed later.

And now we arrive at the “problems” section of the review. For the accuracy of the sensor, I cannot say very much. There are comparison videos on youtube but those are subjective on the initial setup parameters. I’ve seen videos where SCATT is better than Trace, and other videos where Trace is better than SCATT. I cannot comment as I only have a Trace system. 

What i can say is that, maybe because of lighting or mounting problems, the shots i made with it were not consistent. Most of the time, while I can say the shots go in the same general area, in the system they register moving up and a bit to the right. If the first few shots are in the 8 or 9 ring, by shot 60, they are in the 1-2 ring North-North-East.

Another place where i can comment is on the Trace software. As number of features go, the Trace software is greatly inferior to SCATT. There are very few statistics available. Even basic ones, like the length of each section of the trace, are missing. The software only registers the score, the time of the shot, and the total length and duration of the complete trace. That’s it. SCATT has a lot more data and statistics.

Also, the software does not allow to slow down or pause the trace animation, nor to highlight a section of it.When the trace animation is running, the selected shot is not visible and the other shots are not hidden, which makes it very hard to analyse the shot. 

Another small gripe is that the software does not suspend the screensaver, so the PC will enter sleep mode while shooting if you don’t keep moving the mouse. 

The reviewed unit is a Gen1 trace device. On the Trace website, there is an announcement that a Gen2 unit will be available soon and, at the time of this video – august 2020 – is on preorder. The rumor is that, with this new generation of sensor, a new and improved software application will also be available. No word if this new software version will work with the old gen unit.

Similar articles:
Electronic target [EN]
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