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Demmer Shooting Center, MSU students bring new technology to Paralympic athletes

Brett Rowland

EAST LANSING - Michael Galella, the general manager of Michigan State’s Demmer Shooting Sports, Education and Training Center, is constantly seeking to expand its programming. One day, he started to wonder how the most elite shooters in the world train and practice.

“I was sitting in my office and I went to YouTube,” Galella said. “I wanted to see who the world’s best rifle shooter was, and a blind person came up. I’m watching the video and he’s shooting bull’s-eye from 200 yards. He’s shooting a bowling pin. He’s blowing up stuff.”

It’s a natural fit for the Demmer Center and Galella to look for new things, as the facility is certified as both an USA Shooting training center and a Community Olympic Development Center.

That two-minute YouTube clip set in motion more than a year’s worth of work, which has led to Galella, the Demmer Center, and MSU students gaining national recognition. First, he had to track down the blind shooter that had developed the technology.

“I found him at a gun club in Florida,” Galella said. “He was all excited and wanted to help us, and he gave me kind of an incomplete parts list.”

The shooter’s father had developed the unique rifle, which has a large spotting scope on top and two photocells that would transform light into sound. Once he was on target, the scope would generate more noise.

Galella started building a replica, using determination and a haphazard blueprint. But it wasn’t coming together as he hoped.

“We kept getting it to a certain point and it didn’t work,” Galella said. “We were kind of stuck.”

Fortunately, Demmer Center is one of the few shooting centers directly affiliated with a public university. Galella reached out to the engineering department in MSU’s Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities.

From there, five students in MSU’s College of Engineering took on the project and created the product for testing at Demmer Center

“When you take Electrical and Computer Engineering 480 at MSU, you get a sheet on the first day that says all of the different projects you can work on,” said Brett Rowland, the  project’s manager and lead engineer. “For some reason, getting to shoot guns sounded like the most interesting to me.”

A group from the previous semester had worked on the same project, and while the product showed promise, it was too inconsistent. 

Rowland and his team completely changed the operating platform, switching to Bluetooth technology. The change eliminated some of the wiring and made the interface more user-friendly.

The technology behind the product is complex and confidential, because it is pending patent approval. Rowland can reveal that the scope on the rifle will give feedback via a wrist strap and headphones. The wrist strap will vibrate at different intensities depending on how far away from the target the shooter is. The headphones will give audio feedback about which direction the shooter must move their target.

“The most difficult part was really figuring out how to work a product that you yourself don’t need to use on a daily basis,” Rowland said.

The product was well received by the community and MSU. The team was awarded second place for Outstanding Performance by a Senior Capstone Design Team. USA Shooting has reached out to Galella to learn more about the technology and testing.

Rowland and his team see big things for their invention.

“We want to see it actually used for the Paralympics,” Rowland said. “And even more, having it be seen as a recovery method for wounded veterans that come back from overseas. I 100 percent see that happening within the next few years.”

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