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View Full Version : Tutorial: How to Make a Cheap Personal Lap Timer


Spoon
2006.02.11, 08:53 PM
This post is really just an extension of an idea already documented here (http://www.mini-zracer.com/forums/showthread.php?t=19389). I have updated the design with pictures of the process and some personalizations/improvements of my own.

Tools:

Screwdriver
Soldering Iron
Dremel Tool or small file
Drill and Bit Set

Supplies:

Hobbico MicroSizers Lap Timer ($5.28)
Laser Pointer ($6.50)
K&S Aluminum Tube 9/16" ($2.00)

Radio Shack Photo transistor/ Detector (http://www.radioshack.com/product/index.jsp?productId=2049723) ($3.29)
Straws (free at Wendy's)
Simple on/off switch ( salvaged from other RC stuff )
Velcro ( ~$2.00 )

As of the writing of this description, the lap timer was available from E-bay for $5.28 shipped. I also got the laser pointer + 10 batteries for $6.50 shipped.

Modification of the Lap Timer

All you will need from the lap timer is the main unit itself. You can discard the reflective piece used for the Microsizers. I installed the batteries just to make sure the timer was working before I began the modifications.

Hobbico Timer Box (http://mini-zracer.com/mini-zgallery/data/762/ms001_box.JPG)
Hobbico Timer Contents (http://mini-zracer.com/mini-zgallery/data/762/ms002_contents.JPG)

First, unscrew the 5 screws in the back to disassemble the timer into it's two main pieces. You can leave the screws and the front piece alone for a while. We are mainly concerned with the section that hold all of the electronics and the display.

Remove Screws (http://mini-zracer.com/mini-zgallery/data/762/medium/ms004_screws.JPG)
This is all you need for now (http://mini-zracer.com/mini-zgallery/data/762/medium/ms005_apart_front.JPG)

Once you have it apart, remove the screw that holds the transmitter, receiver assembly. It's highlighted by the red arrow below.

Remove this Screw (http://mini-zracer.com/mini-zgallery/data/762/medium/ms006_apart_front2.JPG)
Detector and Emitter (http://mini-zracer.com/mini-zgallery/data/762/medium/ms007_ed.JPG)

You can clip the wires going to the Emitter and throw it away. The laser pointer will serve as the emitter for our timer. You should also de-solder the leads to the collector but pay attention to which wires go where. For my setup, the green wire went to the longer lead on the detector.

Wire Connections 1 (http://mini-zracer.com/mini-zgallery/data/762/medium/ms008_cut.JPG)

As recommended in the original reference, I used telephone wire to make the connection to the detector circuitry. I would have preferred to solder the Tele. wire directly to the board, but I couldn't remove the display without destroying something. So I just soldered to the short wires going to the board. Also, be sure to put a know in the tele wire, so you do put strain on the solder joint if the wires get pulled. One thing that I noticed here is that since you are working in such a small area, it helps to cut the green wire just a little shorter to make up for the difference in the leads of the detector.

Here's a couple of shots of the wires being soldered. First, I twisted them together, then applied some solder. Try to work quickly or you will start to melt the housing on the wires.

Wire Connections 2 (http://mini-zracer.com/mini-zgallery/data/762/medium/ms009_connection.JPG)
Wire Connections 3 (http://mini-zracer.com/mini-zgallery/data/762/medium/ms010_soldered.JPG)

Attach the other end of the detector circuit.

I did this a little differently than the original reference. I tried to use a pen tube from a BIC like the author suggested but I couldn't get consistent accurate readings. I figured I had several problems.

1. The detector is fairly small and it was difficult to get it to sit straight in the BIC tube. I think the sensitivity of the detector is greatly reduced if the light is hitting off-angle.

2. The BIC tube wasn't really blocking light from the room so laps would get missed when the laser was blocked.

3. I was having trouble aiming the laser at the small detector.

I decided to drop by the local Radio Shack and pick up their Emitter/Detector Kit for $3.29. The detector is a little larger than the one in the Hobbico timer so I thought it would be an easier target to hit. I also went right down the street to a hobby shop to pick up a short tube of Aluminum. I think the 9/16 size fit the detector quite well. I would recommend getting the detector first and then checking the tube size before you buy.

Hobbico Detector (http://mini-zracer.com/mini-zgallery/data/762/ms011_stock_detector.JPG)
Radio Shack Detector (http://mini-zracer.com/mini-zgallery/data/762/ms012_ratshack_detector.JPG)
Aluminum Tube (http://mini-zracer.com/mini-zgallery/data/762/medium/ms013_ks_alum_tube.JPG)

With a good tight fit and a larger reflective tube, it is easier to get the laser directly on the detector. Note: brass is cheaper, but it is also more likely to bend.

I also cooked up a scheme for mounting the detector and laser that would help fix any alignment problems. But that's later.

Once you have the Radio Shack or Hobbico detector wired, you can close up the timer.

Setup Laser and Detector

You can really do whatever you want here but I had some scrap wood that really worked well for my cause.

First, mount the detector in the tube of your choice. (In my case the K&S aluminum) and tape the end.

Taped End (http://mini-zracer.com/mini-zgallery/data/762/medium/ms014_taped_end.JPG)

Then, use a drill bit that is about the same size as the outer diameter of your tube and drill a hole as straight as you can through a short piece of 4x4. A drill press would be great here. If it's not perfect, that's okay because we can adjust with the laser.

Test fit your detector assembly into the hole in the 4x4. It doesn't have to be tight, just snug and stable. Mine slides in with minimal effort, but stops where the first layer of tape is applied. See the pictures below.

Test Fit into Mount (http://mini-zracer.com/mini-zgallery/data/762/medium/ms015_tubeinserted.JPG)


The next thing that you want to do is mount the laser so it's adjustable. I used Velcro. One strip on the laser and 2 strips on another block of wood let me position the laser to shoot directly through the hole. This is where it's important that you can slide the detector assembly out of the mount.

Laser Mount (http://mini-zracer.com/mini-zgallery/data/762/medium/ms017_cheap_laser.JPG)

To line things up, I turn on the laser, remove the detector and make sure the laser shines through the 4x4 to the wall or track behind it. As long as it goes straight through you are going to have a good clean shot at the detector.

Laser Alignment (http://mini-zracer.com/mini-zgallery/data/762/medium/ms016_shining.JPG)

Don't look through the hole to check the laser! That would be dumb. Put your hand behind the hole or just look at the wall while you adjust it.


Here is the entire setup. --Whole Setup (http://mini-zracer.com/mini-zgallery/data/762/medium/ms018whole_setup.JPG)

Optional Laser Mod - Highly Recommended

Here is where you need the Dremel. I decided that it was a huge pain to have to hold the laser button down with tape so I dug up an old switch that I had from another RC something or other and wired that to the laser. There was some necessary and unnecessary destruction involved. First, I thought maybe I could unscrew the laser assembly from the housing. WRONG! I think it's all plastic and it's all glued in and it's very brittle. See the picture below.

Mangled Laser Pointer. Don't do this! (http://mini-zracer.com/mini-zgallery/data/762/ms019_chipped_pointer.JPG)

My next plan was to drill in the backside of the laser and see if I could remove/replace the push button switch. I couldn't remove the switch but I was able to bypass it with my toggle switch.

Small Start Hole/Final Hole (http://mini-zracer.com/mini-zgallery/data/762/medium/ms020_pointer_hole.JPG)

You have to drill a hole into the back big enough to get your soldering iron into and solder a wire to each of the metal tabs on the circuit board. If you are handy with a Multimeter, you can check the connectivity between the two tabs when the push switch is open and closed. If the status changes, those are the two tabs that you want.

Wires Attached (http://mini-zracer.com/mini-zgallery/data/762/ms021_soldered_switch.JPG)
Wired Switch (http://mini-zracer.com/mini-zgallery/data/762/ms022_soldered_switch2.JPG)

Once you get the switch soldered to the tabs you can tape everything back up and test out your setup. You should be able to activate the laser with either of the switches.

Final Setup (http://mini-zracer.com/mini-zgallery/data/762/ms023_new_final.JPG)


Obvious Stuff:

To count the laps you are going to need to place tape or something on the antenna of the car. I plan on getting some straws to put over the antenna so I don't have to untape the antenna to change the batteries. If you want more room, you could set the laser/detector combo pretty high on the antenna and you would still have room to change batteries and make simple adjustments.

Again, don't ever look directly into the laser.

Also, try not to burn yourself with the soldering iron.

Spoon
2006.02.11, 09:36 PM
Could a mod change the title of this post to something like

"Tutorial: How to Make a Cheap Personal Lap Timer!"

The current title looks like I am asking a question...and I didn't realize that until more than 30 minutes after I posted.

arch2b
2006.02.11, 10:46 PM
done ;)

awsome work!

instead of a straw, the tube on a wd40 or canned air is the perfect diameter.

Spoon
2006.02.11, 10:54 PM
done ;)

awsome work!

instead of a straw, the tube on a wd40 or canned air is the perfect diameter.

Good thought, thanks.

SteelHead
2006.02.12, 03:33 PM
Does this mod work on a ZipZap timer?It only counts 6 laps.Does this timer cout more than that? :)

Spoon
2006.02.12, 03:44 PM
Does this mod work on a ZipZap timer?It only counts 6 laps.Does this timer cout more than that? :)

The MicroSizers timer has a lot more features. The ZZ timer is a deal right now for 2.48 or something at RadioShack but I don't think it's worth it for only 6 laps. The Microsizers timer will let you run two kinds of races, timed and laps.

The timed races are anywhere from 1 to 10 minutes with 1 minute steps and the lap mode will run races at 1, 10, 25, 50, 75, 100, etc laps. I haven't done more than 50 so I don't remember how high it goes, I think 500.

When you are all done, it tells you what your fastest lap time was to 1/100th of a second. It does not tell you which lap number was your fastest though.

It's really an awesome little timer. I am pretty amazed that they may it so sophisticated for those little 1/64th cars.

If there is ever a Time Trial series for Mini-96 this would certainly do the trick.

SteelHead
2006.02.12, 03:51 PM
Thanks for the info.One more question,Do thay sell these anywere other thn online?Toys"R"Us maby?? :D
By the way,You might be abele to use the zipzap one for Drags.It has two "sensors".One to start the clock,and one to stop it.I think :rolleyes:

EMU
2006.02.12, 06:17 PM
Nice write up Spoon ;)

I have the MicroSizers timer... now just need to get the lazer. detector and tube. What are the straws for? I didnt read a use for them.

Spoon
2006.02.12, 10:01 PM
Nice write up Spoon ;)

I have the MicroSizers timer... now just need to get the lazer. detector and tube. What are the straws for? I didnt read a use for them.

The straws are for the tape that you would tape to the antenna to break the laser beam. If you have to change batteries or something you have to remove the tape to take off the body (probably). With a straw or compressed air tube, you can just slip the whole thing over the antenna and tape that, then pull it off, tape and all, when you have to remove the body.


Thanks for the info.One more question,Do thay sell these anywere other thn online?Toys"R"Us maby??

By the way,You might be abele to use the zipzap one for Drags.It has two "sensors".One to start the clock,and one to stop it.I think


It's a Hobbico product so I don't know if you have to find a Hobbico Dealer. I also didn't look very far into the ZZ timer when I realized that it only counteed six laps.

You could drag with this setup if you put it at the end of the line and set it up for one lap. You would just have to watch out for false starts...but that's part of the skill of drag racing. ;) When you hit the start button, you have 5 seconds before the timer starts. It signals you with lights and sound, so you don't have to be right near it. You could even make the telephone cable 50' long so the unit would be right near the start line.

EDIT: By the way, thanks for th epositive comments guys. It took a couple of hours to get the writeup and pictures together. Also, did you know that there is a 10,000 character limit on posts? I had to delete 80 characters to get my original writeup to fit. :D :o

EMU
2006.02.12, 10:19 PM
Thanks for the explanation. It is quite clear now.

Spoon
2006.02.20, 09:36 PM
Well, I was hoping to post some improvements to my lap timer tonight but instead I have to report that it is temporarily out of commission. :(

I had some technical difficulties trying to streamline the laser setup and I managed to destroy my laser pointer. No worries though, I have no fear that the lap timer will once again rise from the ashes like a mighty phoenix, better than ever.

BillH
2006.10.15, 01:08 PM
Pretty cool I'll have to look into this.

dirtyharry2
2011.04.15, 02:46 PM
I know I'm necroing, but I've seen this thread referenced in many locations, and it's as useful as when originally posted. This mod looks like it perfectly does what I've been looking for. I'm impatiently waiting for my ebay'd microsizers timer to arrive, and have already purchased the pointer and new sensor.

However, I'd like to make a modification, specifically so it works for drag racing (I'm timing flyball dogs, not racers, and this would be perfect for training). If I purchase a second pointer and sensor, is there not a way I could wire them in series with the originals so that a trip of either beam counts as a lapmarker? I'm perfectly willing to pick up a switch or doodad or whatever if there's something else I'd need to wire into the circuit.

I have minimal electrical skill, so the more "point and shoot" (similar to the original directions) the better.

Any help greatly appreciated!

Spoon
2011.04.22, 02:59 PM
I know I'm necroing, but I've seen this thread referenced in many locations, and it's as useful as when originally posted. This mod looks like it perfectly does what I've been looking for. I'm impatiently waiting for my ebay'd microsizers timer to arrive, and have already purchased the pointer and new sensor.

However, I'd like to make a modification, specifically so it works for drag racing (I'm timing flyball dogs, not racers, and this would be perfect for training). If I purchase a second pointer and sensor, is there not a way I could wire them in series with the originals so that a trip of either beam counts as a lapmarker? I'm perfectly willing to pick up a switch or doodad or whatever if there's something else I'd need to wire into the circuit.

I have minimal electrical skill, so the more "point and shoot" (similar to the original directions) the better.

Any help greatly appreciated!

It's been a while since I've been on here but I am glad to see this is still getting some use.

I am not sure about using the timer so that it's setup with two sensors but is it possible to start the dogs when the timer counts down?

I did address a drag race issue above.

You could drag with this setup if you put it at the end of the line and set it up for one lap. You would just have to watch out for false starts...but that's part of the skill of drag racing. When you hit the start button, you have 5 seconds before the timer starts. It signals you with lights and sound, so you don't have to be right near it. You could even make the telephone cable 50' long so the unit would be right near the start line.

Would that work for you?

dirtyharry2
2011.05.09, 12:12 PM
Unfortunately, I don't think we can hit the level of precision that we want, if we're just doing the release and watching for false starts. At that level of precision, it's just as easy to use a stopwatch.

I've been talking with some electrically-minded folks, and think I might be able to get it working with an 'and-gate' type system. I'll keep you updated :).