HOMEBREW My Own Laser Tag System By Jim Robertson
In 2002, while stationed with the Air Force
in Frankfurt, Germany, I started working on a
home-built laser tag system. I thought it would be
an interesting project and a fun outdoor activity for
my kids and their friends (and me).
Commercial outdoor laser tag guns were far too
expensive, while consumer toy systems were
too fragile and lacked the features I wanted, and
neither option was upgradeable or expandable.
I was fairly confident I could build something better.
Part of my Air Force training involved use of the
MILES (Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement
System) during annual field exercises. MILES is like
laser tag on steroids, so I incorporated some of its
capabilities into my system. I also borrowed ideas
and inspiration from first-person shooter computer
games my son was playing, like sound effects, automatic respawns, ammo dumps, and health pickups.
The electronics hardware is based on a Microchip
PIC microcontroller, and the firmware provides a
comprehensive set of parameters that can be edited
before each game. As a result, each tagger can be
set to inflict various degrees of damage and rates
of fire. A backlit LCD display shows your remaining
192 Make: Volume 15
rounds, health, elapsed time, and who tagged you
last. A Winbond ISD2560 ChipCorder provides realistic sound effects that can be easily programmed
with .wav files borrowed from video games, movies,
or virtually any source.
The body of the tagger is built mainly from aluminum channel and sheet, which are rugged and
easy to work with common hand tools. To keep the
system eye-safe, an infrared LED and dual-convex
(magnifier) lens are used instead of a real laser. The
optics assembly is simply a short PVC tube with the
lens at one end and the infrared LED on the other.
I started building Miles Tag as a hobby, but it’s
turned out to be more than that. I’ve spent more
time with my kids, become more active, and even
launched a small side business. I continue to improve
the Miles Tag DIY laser tag system, which is in use
by many hobbyists around the world. But I also now
design hardware and firmware for one of the largest
outdoor laser tag manufacturers in the world.
Jim Robertson is a retired Air Force master sergeant and
avid electronics tinkerer. He’s an engineering technician at
the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory in Dayton, Ohio.
Photograph by Jim Robertson