Speed gun, the South African invention that changed global sports since 1999

September 23, 2018 at 10:00 am | Tech & Innovation

Mildred Europa Taylor

Mildred Europa Taylor | Associate Editor

September 23, 2018 at 10:00 am | Tech & Innovation

The Speed Gun is used across the world for accurate statisitcs --- SABLE Accelerator

It is an invention that changed sports statistics across the world.

The speed gun, made by a South African engineer, Henri Johnson, accurately measures the speed and angles of speeding objects such as cricket and tennis balls.

The Somerset West inventor used his knowledge in sonar and radar to develop this technology in 1992 and was formally launched at The Oval in England during the 1999 Cricket World Cup.

Originally known as the Speedball, the device has since been sold in cricketing countries and in the U.S. and Europe.

Essentially, the invention gives “fascinating insights into the flight paths of balls and the playing techniques of famous sportspeople.”

Johnson developed the interest in engineering when he was a child and this compelled him to study the subject at the university.

His initial focus, as a professional engineer, was on projects using sonar, which were commissioned by the South African Navy.

He later developed radar technology that could measure the velocity and ballistics of projectiles in flight. This technology is now used by the military in more than 20 countries around the world, according to an IOL report.

Following years of experience in this field, Johnson realized that there was an opportunity to apply the technology in sports, thus, with the South African engineering company, Electronic Development House (EDH), in Stellenbosch, Johnson was able to cater to other industries needing the technology, including sports.

In 1992, he and EDH invented the “Speed Gun” and later improved his invention with the development of the EDH SpeedBall, which uses a Doppler radar system initially developed for the military, to measure the speed of a cricket ball in flight.

“This device is placed at either end of a cricket ground and takes a reading every 1/1 000 of a second. It can measure the ball every few centimetres in its flight, with an accuracy of less than 1 per cent of the actual speed. It computes the speed from the moment the ball leaves the bowler’s hand to the moment it strikes the pitch (or bat), and again after it bounces. It compensates automatically for the various bowling angles and distances, and ignores stationary objects,” according to a description by IOL.

Johnson subsequently applied his technology to the tennis court and invented the world’s first 3D tennis serve speed measuring device, the RaquetRadar, which measures the speed of a player’s service.

He later turned to golf after a banter with colleagues about measurement and which information golfers truly desired and, in 2004, developed the world-famous FlightScope, a comprehensive 3D golf ball tracker, which has since been used by top golf instructors, equipment manufacturers and club fitters across the world.

FlightScope follows the trajectory of a golf ball and provides information on speed, direction and angle of flight.

“As the world’s first 3D Doppler Tracking Radar, FlightScope is now offered as a cost-effective solution for the traditional “launch monitor” market, where accuracy and reliability have become increasingly important.

“FlightScope measures the entire ball trajectory, together with the clubhead speed profile and the club head acceleration profile,” said IOL.

Despite competition, Flightscope made it to the states and became a household name among teaching professionals, as the product is able to give golfers the numbers they need and the simplicity to manage it.

Flightscope saw sales growth 30 per cent year-over-year in the states and Johnson and his colleagues became not only innovators but “market leaders in the industry.”

By 2014, Flightscope won a “Stevie Award” for Best Consumer Product and as at today, the invention has an estimated customers base of over 9,000 people

It is also hoping to experience more growth with different products that will change the golf industry for the better.

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