It may be a relatively new sport, but there's been surprisingly little technological innovation in the world of paintball since it was created. Aside from a few modest enhancements, the basic gas-powered guns (also called markers) have remained about the same, but an upcoming product could change how the game is played entirely. The Strikeloader is a battery-operated backpack that feeds paintballs directly into a gun, eliminating the need for a regular loader while holding six times as much ammo.
In professional matches, paintballers usually resort to carrying several canisters of spare balls and taking cover to reload every so often, which restricts their movement and leaves them vulnerable. As you might imagine, a device that continuously funnels all of a player's ammo directly into their marker without the need to reload could offer a huge tactical advantage. Besides carrying extra ammunition, the backpack also removes the need for a paintball loader on top of the gun, giving the player an unobstructed view along with a lighter, more balanced gun.
Inventor Heddies Andresen, a product developer based in Germany, came up with the idea for an automatic paintball loader after an accident cost him his left hand. Since then, Andresen and his team have spent several years perfecting the Strikeloader design to ensure it can withstand the harsh conditions of countless frenzied paintball matches.
The main compartment of the backpack has room for 1,200 balls, which is quite a jump from most loaders that can only hold about 200. Below that is the patented feeding mechanism, which uses a rechargeable Li-Ion battery pack to send paintballs through an attached hose and into the gun. According to Andresen, the mechanism is designed to prevent any jams or accidental breaks, but is also powerful enough to keep shooting even if the gun is held sideways, upside-down, or high above a person's head. On a full charge, the battery has enough power to feed over 10,000 balls at a rate of 42 balls per second. The bottom section can also be detached and rotated to accommodate both left and right-handed users.
Players can either wear the Strikeloader using several straps or mount it onto certain tactical vests with an adapter. It isn't bulky in size, so the wearer can maneuver comfortably without becoming a larger target. The backpack has been built to be shatterproof and waterproof, so it stays operational no matter how hectic a game gets, and it only weighs a light 2.9 kg (6.39lb) when empty. Players will also be able to move freely and switch guns between hands thanks to a flexible, spiral steel hose that's engineered to keep the paintballs flowing. The entire system also disassembles for quick cleaning, just in case a defective paintball makes a mess inside the feeding mechanism.
The development team says it has gone to great lengths to ensure the product is reliable and will fit in with other paintball equipment on the market. They've already produced various adapters, skins, battery chargers, and more so players can customize the Strikeloader to their liking. They've even built an LCD screen that attaches to a marker to display how much game time or ammo is left and will alert the user if either one gets lower than a specified point.
If the designers can deliver on what they're promising, the Strikeloader could literally be a game-changer for paintball players. Not needing to reload opens up the sport to completely new strategies, and some leagues may even need to amend their rules to address it.
Andresen and his collaborators are currently attempting to raise US$250,000 to bring the Strikeloader into mass production through the crowd-funding site, RocketHub. The minumum contribution level is $269 to pre-order the Strikeloader in black, olive, or desert camo color schemes. To sweeten the deal, the team is also offering to send the finished loaders to backers a good 3-6 months ahead of general consumers. The first batch expected to ship in February 2014. Even if they don't meet their funding goal however, the developers say they already have a backup investor lined up, so anyone who pre-orders a Strikeloader should still receive one.
Check out the video below to see how a Strikeloader prototype performs in action.