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Chips in Discs - Now What?

The recent PDGA Technical Standards revision that allows manufacturers to add electronics to discs opens up several new possibilities. As if we need it with over 700 PDGA approved disc models already on the books! But this electronics initiative could expand our play horizons perhaps in unexpected ways. For example, how about working towards competing at night in the snow at the 2034 Winter Olympics (future story)? However, it is economics, flight characteristics of discs carrying this new "payload", and demand of said discs that will ultimately determine whether or not embedded technology is embraced by disc golfers and disc manufacturers.

What lead to changing the Tech Specs to allow for embedded electronics? Player behavior over the past several years to tape or screw on LEDs (light emitting diodes) to their discs for night play was a key factor. The PDGA has been allowing players to tape LEDs on their discs for sanctioned night play, both tournament rounds and leagues where only some holes in the round might be in darkness. In addition, LEDs taped to discs have been used to help players find discs in the snow, especially for night play. These developments were covered over a year ago in the story, Glowin' in the Winter

While there were specific spec changes needed to allow LEDs to be permanently embedded in discs, some manufacturers over the years have suggested broadening future spec changes to allow electronics in general to open possibilities beyond LED night lights. And here we are with the electronics spec change recently approved by the PDGA Board of Directors. One sticking point was how to allow the addition of some metal to discs which has been a long-standing taboo. The new spec allows metal in the electronic components and it must not be externally exposed. Presumably this will preclude incorporation of non-electronic, free metal parts even if embedded in the plastic.

Here are some possible functions that we may see added to discs once manufacturers can figure out how to do it, and more importantly, decide to do it based on their estimate of player demand:

  • LED and perhaps eventually OLED (even brighter, lower power) lights for night and snow play
  • Sound functions perhaps only activated during flight or beeping when you're in range
  • Accelerometers to measure forces to help with training and measuring improvement
  • GPS tracking leading to distance measurements and real-time tracking for live coverage
  • Owner or manufacturer info added to chip for electronic tracking and returning your disc
  • Timer: Measure flight time and making 30 sec delay of game and 3-minute lost disc calls
  • Counting number thrown with left or right spin, object hits, time aloft, etc. for disc usage stats
  • Receiver for messages (weather warning?) broadcast by TD (Maybe built-in to mini instead of disc)
  • Bubble generator or organic dye packet triggered when disc is submerged for easier location in water
  • Heating element to warm disc during winter temperatures 
  • Surface artwork changes like a mood ring (i.e., changes colors for those born after the 70s)

Consider combining this new disc technology with site infrastructure improvements like blanket wi-fi coverage and technology in targets. It might lead to an automated version of the "dots display" pioneered at the USDGC where the discs of players in the lead group were tracked by two guys on a cart and transmitted to a web page. This type of display, with or without background map, might be seen live on the Internet for most or all groups. Not only would it be cool for online spectators but the tournament staff could see where there might be flow problems on the course(s). The possibilities are endless. Even the water jug locations could flash on-screen when they're determined to be empty.

Locator icons.jpg

Internal energy storage will be important to power most new functions. Some of these might include:

  • Small batteries either replaceable or rechargeable
  • Capacitors
  • Fuel cells (zinc/air)
  • Mechanical storage using special materials

Charging methods will also be needed:

  • Embedded micro connector (normally capped) connects to charging source
  • Induction recharging (more info)
  • Solar panels ringing top of flight plate for recharging (more info)
  • Recharging with micro windmills (more info)
  • Tapping spinning energy to recharge

One challenge to implement certain new tech designs could be figuring out how to do it using the conventional injection molding process. There's help on the horizon (that will be interesting for our sport even without embedded electronics) and that is the continuing decline in the cost of 3D printing. Perhaps certain new disc design ideas will be achieved by embedding the technology during a 3D printing process. 

Another interesting offshoot from these potential technical advances, not fully addressed with the recent spec changes, is "snap-on" systems. The PDGA already allows small LEDs of various shapes and models to temporarily be taped to the discs for sanctioned night and winter play. It might be more convenient for players if some discs were designed with plastic tabs or a receptacle molded under the center of the flight plate where a specific model of LED could be securely snapped in for night play and removed for day play. This would be especially useful for those fall and spring leagues where part of the round is in twilight or darkness.

How about giving one clap in advance for those manufacturing pioneers who will bravely move ahead and show us what's possible? And perhaps, not only for seniors, we might eventually need to clap twice to briefly turn off the lit LEDs in our discs to save battery power once we mark our lie with a glow mini...


Submitted by zingmini on

Being a plastics professional, manufacturer and avid Disc Golf player I can truly make a testimonial that this technology can be realized in a disc. In my professional life I have produced multiple injection molded platforms with RFID overmolded devices. As owner of Zing Mini Discs, I would be willing to injection mold some of my products with this same tracking technology if an audience member would be willing to support the project.

Craig Myers
Zing Mini Discs

I'm looking forward to discs that will tell you where they are hiding, either by a key tag activated beeper or by a GPS chip that will turn a cell phone into a disc finder.

Submitted by schermy14 on

I'd love to develop one of these technologies, especially a chip for tracking discs in flight and providing feedback to the thrower. This could first be attached to the bottom of the disc, and eventually molded into the disc itself, as the technology is more widely adopted.

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