When my friend Phil Rogers, inventor of the LIDAR wind reading technology behind the new Trijicon Ventus X wind reader sent a text message to me on January 8, 2020, I was thrilled. He told me that I could finally publicly discuss the incredible product he has been working on with the brilliant engineers at Trijicon. I wrote about the product HERE.
Trijicon Ventus – Phil Rogers Interview:
On January 16, 2020 I got to chat with Phil about wind, which is the biggest deal when it comes to long-range shooting, to discuss an excellent new product that he’s deeply involved in that reads the wind―the Trijicon Ventus.
Shepard: Thanks for chatting with me.
Phil: You’re welcome. How are you?
Shepard: Just perfect.
Phil: Good, good.
Shepard: Nice windy, blustery day in Jackson Hole to talk about wind reading.
Phil: Yes, it is.
Shepard: What’s your wind reading experience? What brought about the reason we’re here talking today, the Ventus. What was the beginning?
Phil: Early in my career as an aerodynamics engineer, I recognized the need in the aviation industry to be able to measure the speed of aircraft in a more robust manner.
All aircraft today use a pressure measurement system to measure the airspeed of the airplane. You can feel this technique when you put your hand out the window of your car, when you drive; you feel the pressure of the air against your hand. In an aircraft, the device is called a Pitot tube, invented by a Frenchman, Henri Pitot in the 18th century to measure the flow of the sewage in the Paris underground sewage system.
Shepard: That’s an interesting beginning.
Phil: That’s the same technique we use today to measure the speed of airplanes going through the air. But airplane capability has outpaced the ability of these pneumatic systems to measure the airspeed and they are not as accurate as they need to be, or as sensitive as they need to be. Modern computer-controlled, fly by wire airplanes need better air data. The need for this became apparent back in the 1980s and 90s. And so in 1990, we formed a company called Optical Air Data Systems or OADS, for short, to take advantage of then-recent developments in fiber optic technology, the same technology Verizon uses to bring FIOS Internet into your home, to create a practical, rugged, reliable, affordable optical air data system to replace the pneumatic air data systems that we use today.
Shepard: Is this something that’s mounted on the airplane?
Phil: It is something that is mounted in the airplane and is integrated into the aircraft systems. We’ve got systems now flying on a number of different aircraft manufacturers in tests, and also to collect flight test data for their certification programs. We’re in the process of launching a certification program to certify this as a primary data system for aircraft use. But we recognized that there’s also a great capability in this fiber optic technology to create a miniaturized system that can be used for a number of other applications, including sports, like shooting, golfing, sailing, even football, baseball, anything that’s affected by the wind.
So we spun off a new company, Precision Sports Technologies, or PST, to commercialize and manufacture this technology for these sporting, non-aviation related applications.
Shepard: Okay. Great! And so now shooters get to benefit.
Phil: Yes, now shooters get to benefit! We’ve been measuring the wind for a long time. We have a lot of knowledge of what the wind does and how the wind behaves.
Shepard: And what is your background, your educational and career background before this company?
Phil: I’m an aerodynamicist by training. I have advanced degrees in aerodynamics and aerospace engineering. I worked as an aerospace engineer, aerodynamics engineer and in a number of projects at Lockheed before we started our own company.
Shepard: So you didn’t take the easy way out like I did with Social Science or whatever the paper they gave me said. You did the smart stuff” and that had to be tough. So, this is an elementary question, but I mentioned RADAR to you the other day and you corrected me and said, LIDAR. What’s the difference between RADAR and LIDAR?
Phil: RADAR is a technique that has been around a long time, since before World War II, that takes electromagnetic energy, radio waves, and bounces them off of an object, a target for instance, and measures the time it takes to get to the target and back again. Knowing the speed of light, we know how far away the target is that way. LIDAR is Light RADAR. Instead of using radio waves, we use light that does exactly the same thing.
Shepard: Okay. That makes sense. Thank you. Do I understand correctly, on some of the devices that you already have in the market for the aviation industry, they read further than the 500 yards that the Ventus is going to read. Why the size of the Ventus and why the distance that it reads? How did you come to that decision?
Phil: We do have devices that read farther for certain applications. Actually, the aviation devices don’t read that far. The range of the device to measure wind has to do with the size of the aperture, or lens, and size of the system itself.
We tried to keep the first Ventus a handheld device, small enough that you can actually put it in a pocket or pouch to carry it around rather than have something that had to be tripod-mounted.
Shepard: Okay, so who’s your target demographic? Are you thinking of long-range shooters, the extreme long-range shooters, like the mile target I have watched you hit, or are you thinking of the hunter or someone else?
Phil: Well, all of them. We’re thinking of all of them.
Phil: One of things we know from the effect of wind on bullets is the flight of the bullet is most affected in the first third of its trajectory.
Phil: So if we are shooting out to fifteen hundred yards, for example, five hundred yards is sufficient to give you a much better hit probability. Obviously knowing it all the way out is best, but you don’t need to know it all the way out.
Shepard: This sure beats having a wind reading only at the muzzle, with the traditional methods.
Phil: Exactly. We had to design the system for the practical aperture size of the laser system itself so 500 yards seems like a good first distance to start.
Phil: We can go out further with something like a spotting scope size,
Shephard: But then it’s not something a hunter can stick in his pocket.
Shepard: Okay, that makes sense. So with this unit, if it is raining or there’s a storm of some sort or fog, what kind of environmental factors make it more difficult to read the wind? And then I understand it also has a laser rangefinder up to 5,000 yards. How is all that affected by weather?
Phil: It actually works better in bad weather because remember, the LIDAR energy we send bounces off of particulates in the atmosphere. So the more things that are in the atmosphere, the better the signal we get.
Phil: So if it’s snowing or raining, or fog, that’s wonderful for us.
Shepard: Okay, so we’re going to be fine, especially a hunter at 500 yards is going to be very much fine.
Phil: Very much. Yes.
Shepard: Okay. Wonderful. And is this device waterproof?
Phil: Yes, absolutely.
Shepard: And did I read also you’ve done some shock testing, it is going to be a tough thing?
Phil: Yes, correct. By using the fiber optic technology I mentioned before, the device is very rugged. There are no moving parts in it. There aren’t any discrete lenses or parts in the optical laser chain to go out of alignment. The only lens in it is in the sighting device and we already know how to make rugged scopes and binoculars. The actual laser components are all solid-state fiber optic parts that are extremely rugged.
Shepard: Okay. Great. So I noticed a comment on my Nomad Rifleman YouTube channel. Someone said, “This is pretty pricey. They’re probably going to be some knockoffs coming out soon that will be less inexpensive.” I looked and found out that there is already a device similar to the Ventus. It is for sale for ninety thousand dollars. What is it that is making these devices cost ninety thousand dollars or even eight thousand dollar-ish, the expected Ventus price?
Phil: I assume you’re talking about the Racer’s Edge?
Phil: Okay. That was our original product.
Shepard: That was your device, you did that one too?
Phil: Yes. That’s something we came out with a decade ago. We were asked in 2010 by an America’s Cup sailboat racing team to build a handheld wind sensor for them. It was our very first handheld device, it was actually the first handheld LIDAR device to measure wind out to 1,000 yards. That one had much bigger lenses. It measured multiple wind ranges out to 1,000 yards. The technology was expensive at the time.
Phil: That was the first device that was ever built that was handheld and worked off a battery, the first LIDAR that was ever made that way.
Shepard: So I can’t look at this one at under $10,000 as a 90% discount? lol
Phil: Well, that’s a good way to look at it. That was expensive at that time because the technology wasn’t as mature as it is today. We spent a significant amount of time, effort and resources to miniaturize this device, and get the price point down. We can now get it below $10,000, which is more of a consumer price. Yes, it’s expensive. It’s the first of its kind. It’s the first capability that’s ever been made to be able to do this. I want to give credit to my wife, Alisa, a co-founder and owner of our company. She spent the last year working with our suppliers and our engineers to get this miniaturized and she has done a great job!
Shepard: I can just imagine all that’s going into it. I’m working on product development on a little tiny, non-sophisticated item. I am impressed with all of the knowledge out there, all of the things I’m learning about plastics, light emitting diodes and resins. I can only imagine all the little tiny engineering pieces that have to go into the Ventus, all of the engineering behind a sophisticated item like yours.
Phil: Absolutely! There is no question that this is a very complex optical device. It’s not trivial to make it work. Think about bouncing laser energy off of microscopic dust particles in the atmosphere that you can’t see, how much light you have to send to find the signal in all the background clutter that we get. It has to be a sophisticated optical device with sophisticated signal processing to be able to do that.
Shepard: Sounds like it. Now, how about low light? How does it behave? At what point is it not able to see in the dark?
Phil: Oh, it sees in the dark very well. We send our own energy out and receive it back. So it doesn’t matter, light or dark. It doesn’t matter whether the sun is shining or it’s completely dark. You don’t need any ambient light to make it work.
Shepard: Okay, interesting. I frequently go out shooting alone in the desert. Is this something that I could set up on my tripod? And it has Bluetooth I understand? I can look at my smart device, or relatively smart device, and it is paired via Bluetooth?
Phil: Yes. It can be set up on a tripod with a standard tripod mount. It also Bluetooth communicates the information to your phone or other electronic device that has the Trijicon Ballistics app on it. It takes that information and converts it into a wind map for you. It also will have a built-in display that will display the wind information.
Shepard: As you’re looking through the device itself, you will see a digital readout of the wind data?
Shepard: Okay. So on the handheld device, I can look at a map and see which way the wind is blowing at 300 yards, and at 400 yards for example? Is that accurate?
Shepard: Nice, is this app out yet?
Phil: No, it’s not out yet. It’s going to come out with the device.
Shepard: Okay, perfect. And so as this is mounted on the tripod and I’m laying down beside it with my smartphone, is it constantly reading the wind or do I hit a button to get it to read the wind or how does that work?
Phil: You would press a button to measure range, or another button to measure wind and range.
Shepard: Okay, and how long from the time I say “Go” to the device does it take for it to collect, calculate and give me the data?
Phil: Only fractions of a second, it will look instantaneous.
Shepard: Okay. And on my smartphone display I’ll know what my firing solution should be in MOA or MIL?
Phil: Yes. I should mention also that it’s a very unique technique, the measurement that we do. We actually measure not only crosswind; we measure headwind, tailwind, and vertical wind for a complete three-dimensional ballistic solution. We know that vertical wind has as much effect on the vertical dispersion of the bullet’s trajectory as crosswind does in the horizontal plane.
Shepard: Okay. Now, the precise angle of the wind, is that also taken into consideration at all of the different distances?
Shepard: It’s 90 degrees at one place and 83 degrees at another place-
Phil: Or going in the other direction. It measures all that.
Shepard: And it’s all calculated into the ballistic solution and provided?
Shepard: Wow. Wow. But I still need to go to the range and show up, it almost seems like it is going to do it all for me? lol
Phil: Well, you still have to hold the rifle, squeeze the trigger properly, all of the other shooting techniques you teach. So, yes, you still need to show up.
Shepard: All right. And you mentioned that PST is your company. So how is PST affiliated with Trijicon?
Phil: We wanted to partner with a company that had good channels to market and knew the shooting industry, and was known for building high quality, rugged products. That is Trijicon. So we formed a joint venture with Trijicon, that will be doing business as WindPro Technologies.
Shepard: And so you are still involved? This wasn’t something you just handed the technology over and walked away, you are still working on the development with the Trijicon team?
Phil: Oh, yes, we are still very much involved. We are co-partners in the joint venture, we’re operating together and it’s working out very well.
Shephard: Wonderful. So they’re a good group to work with?
Phil: Very good.
Shepard: Yes, I watched a video and the engineers looked like some good down to earth folks that you’d actually want to go out and shoot some steel with.
Phil: Yes, they are. And like Alisa and me, and you and Lynn, they’re a family-owned business. And so we get along quite well. We have the same goals and objectives. I think we all see the value of this capability and look forward to a long-term relationship with multiple versions of this product coming out in the future.
Shepard: Well, I’m excited to try them all out. So what have I not asked you that I should be asking? What else is there to know about the Trijicon Ventus?
Phil: Well, I think that it’s a revolutionary device in this market, and it’s going to give sportsmen a capability that we’ve never had before. That said, not only in shooting, but also in other sports activities, other related activities that are affected by the wind. As I’m sure you know as a long-range shooter, the wind is a very complex phenomenon. That is why we have concentrated on measuring three dimensional wind at multiple ranges, to generate a “wind map”, if you will, that will give a precise ballistic solution. Furthermore, with our measurement technique, we measure more along the actual path of the bullet, rather than in a straight line to the target. This gives wind information where the bullet actually flies, even above a tree line.
We’ve actually done some neat things in our company related to the wind. We’ve measured wind for NASCAR, we’ve measured wind at a football game to see the effect of the wind on the ball for field goal kicking and passing. Someday we’ll see that being broadcast on TV.
Phil: Even in baseball, a manager needs and wants to know where the wind is blowing so he knows where to position his fielders for a fly ball. Think about golf, the golfer cares about the wind on the fairway. This a device that he can take out there and measure the wind down the fairway, above the tree line and see what effect the wind will have on the golf ball. So any activity that is affected by the wind, we see this as a useful device. I think it’s going to revolutionize how we actually see the wind, understand the wind.
Wind is a very complex phenomenon. It’s not a simple thing. We tend to think of the wind always blowing this way or that. It’s not like that, it swirls, it moves around. There is a lot of vertical movement of the air, even on flat terrain, we’ve seen that. We understand that and this gives us the ability to actually measure it and present it to the user so he or she can make use of it.
Shepard: This is such a big thing. And again, I will have to see it and see how it works, but my gosh, for years, wind has always been the biggest deal in extreme long-range shooting.
Phil: Yes, for sure.
Shepard: That’s the variable that technology has not yet allowed us to measure. You can measure the distance. You can learn the pressure and you can control cant. You can hand load some good ammo that gives small vertical spread. But the wind is so tough! We shoot a target at 2,175 yards, one of my favorite targets, a 24” circle. At that distance, we’re frequently aiming dead-on even though there’s a 15-mile an hour wind blowing one direction and a 15-mile an hour wind blowing the other direction at different distances. There’s so much going on. The idea that now it can be seen and measured, at least part of the distance, it is unbelievable.
Phil: That’s what we do.
Shepard: Well, I’m glad you do!
Phil: It’s what we’ve worked for a long time to achieve. I know it’s expensive right now, but it’s going to enable people to go out and shoot and do things that they couldn’t do before.
Shepard: Yes! Well, this Trijicon Ventus is an interesting, incredible thing you have created. As an extreme long range shooter, I can’t thank you enough for your efforts. Thanks also for taking the time to chat with me today, Phil. I look forward to seeing it out in the field, seeing it work and making some things go ding that are a long way away.
Phil: So do I.
Shepard: Good. Wonderful. Thank you.