03-27-2016, 09:55 PM
Too Many Initiators is Never Enough
Join Date: Mar 2005
Location: San Diego, CA
Talking Launch Controller
Time Frame: 1998-1999
Product: Laser Launch Controller
By 1998 Estes Industries had been run by Barry Tunick for almost ten years. Tunick, coming from a toy industry background, wanted to introduce more interaction or ‘play value’ in model rocketry.
One idea was to make the launching of a model rocket more involving. This lead to the idea of having a speaking/talking launch controller. A synthesized voice would sound a countdown and upon reaching zero the rocket would launch.
This speaking controller would replace the Electron Beam controller found in Estes Starter Sets and available separately. It was named the Laser Launch Controller.
Estes went to the effort of having a mold made for this controller and twenty prototype/pre-production units were made. These were fully functional with a female voice giving a five second countdown (It was not the voice of Mary Roberts).
I was sent one of these units to beta-test and I used it at a launch held by the Southern California Rocketry Association (SCRA, NAR Section # 430) at their Los Angeles launch site. The unit had several similarities and differences with the Electron Beam controller. Both used four AA batteries and a safety key but everything else was different.
The safety key was a flat piece of plastic which on one end fit over the top of a launch rod and the other end had a metallic contact. This contact would fit into a socket on the side of the Laser launch controller. This would cause a continuity light to go on if there was a complete circuit to the igniter. The modeler would then hold down a button which would causer the controller to begin speaking the countdown. At ‘zero’ a green light would appear on the controller, the modeler would let go of the button and the rocket would launch. The launch could be stopped by letting go of the button before the green light appeared. This was counter-intuitive to the way other launch controllers operated.
My use of the Laser Launch Controller had a crowd gather to hear the voice of the unit. After one use the crowd walked away with little comment. I brought the controller to usual SCRA post-launch hang-out (Jack-in-the-Box) where folks operated the unit but it failed to hold their attention for long.
My report back to Estes was that it was initially interesting but didn’t hold folks attention. A gimmick.
The Laser Launch Controller never saw production and release. I was told the reason was that the price for the voice chip could not be brought down low enough for the Laser controller to be sold for the same price as the Electron Beam controller. I was also told that there had been some safety concerns raised about the way the unit worked.
I vaguely recall a handbill/buckslip/handout about the Laser Launch Controller but so far I have not found such a thing in my collection.
Of the twenty units made I know of the location of two of them. The status of the other eighteen is unknown to me.
S.A.M. # 0014