“Kestrelbot” Wins First Lego League Global Challenge

Kids with kestrel poster and kestrel botEach year, teams from all over the world participate in the First Lego League challenge.  This past year, the “Aztechs2,” a team made up of 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders from Adobe Bluffs Elementary School in Rancho Peñasquitos, CA , used a Kestrel 4500 as the centerpiece for their lego project.  

(Team Picture– Back row:  Casey “Captain Kestrel” K., Noah L., Caden M., Mitch H, Rohan P.  Front: Jacob H, Noah D.)

The topic for this year’s First Lego League Challenge was “Nature’s Fury.”  Teams were tasked with coming up with either a brand new solution or an improvement to a current solution to kids with Kestrel‘nature’s fury.’  The Aztechs2 decided that they would attempt to find a solution to wildfires in San Diego.  As part of their research, the team traveled to the regional National Weather Service Center to learn more about Kestrel Weather Meters and how firefighters are currently use it to help fight wildfires.

After conducting their research, the Aztechs2 brainstormed solutions and eventually came up with the idea to mount a Kestrel 4500 onto a small robot. The team believed that having the Kestrel on a robot would allow for more accurate readings since the robot could get closer to the fire than a person. The data would then be sent from the “Kestrelbot” to the fire fighters so they could decide on the best course of action.  The team presented their idea to the fire fighters from CalFire, who thought that this was a fantastic idea!

The team built a cardboard prototype and brought it to a
CalFire – San Miguel kestrel bot with firefightings in roomFire Station  to get expert feedback on their design.  The firemen loved the design, told the boys that it would save lives, and help predict the movement of the wildfires. The team had come up with a new solution that was useful!

Finally, the day of the big local qualifying tournament had arrived.  The Aztechs2 would be one of 25 teams competing.  The Aztechs2 knew their Kestrelbot was needed and a real world solution,
but there were many other great solutions too.  The boys presented their findings, explained how they decided on the Kestrelbot, shared their research, and showed the cardboard prototype.  When the final awards ceremony took place, the Aztechs2 received the first place trophy for their project!

Kids with trophy

The Aztechs2 want to thank Nielsen-Kellerman for their support and generous donation of the Kestrel.  This was a key to the team’s success—they even became known as the “Kestrel Life Savers”.  The team has also started the process for patenting their invention!”

- Casey “Captain Kestrel” K, Noah D, Noah L, Jacob H, Mitch H, Caden M, and Rohan P.

8 Fundamentals of Race Coxing

Excerpts from “The Coxswain Encyclopedia”
by Laura Simon, Stew Stokes, and Margot Zalkind

1. Race Plan and Execution

coxswainOne key to being a great race coxswain is to remember and execute your race plan. Prepare your calls before the race and have everything written down or memorized. Plan ahead and have your Cox Box® charged and ready to go at the start of the race.

2. Steering

Coxswains are trusted to steer the boat from start to finish. Make sure your crew is clean on the first 3 strokes in order to keep the bow from being thrown around at the beginning of the race. Steering can add meters to your race, slowing down your overall time, and putting you a competitive disadvantage.

3. Voice Control 

Talk calmly and with a rhythmic tone. Crews do not want to be yelled at. Speak clearly into your microphone and stay controlled, confident and excited without sounding frantic.  Make sure that you save those loud intense calls for when they really matter. You don’t want crews to tune out important calls because you’re constantly yelling.

4. Voice Intonation

Coxswains need to be able to adjust their voices based on their surroundings. Stay away from a monotonous tone. You can maintain your crews attention by constantly changing the way your voice sounds. Practice and track your voice intonation to see what works best for your crew.

5. Motivation

As a coxswain, it is your job to motivate your crew throughout practices and on race day. Be sure to attach your motivation to a technique. Make a call with an action attached to it, and let your crew know when they’ve succeeded.

6. Judging Distance and Speed of Other Boats

This skill will develop throughout your coxswain career. One technique is to pick a landmark and start counting when the crew passes that mark. Now, in seconds, you know how far behind you are. Three to four seconds is a boat length, so do the math to calculate how far behind you are.

7. Identify, Correct, and Give Feedback

Being able to successfully identify mistakes and give proper feedback is a crucial skill as you advance in your coxswain career. When you notice your crew making a mistake, give them specific feedback and instruct them on how to fix it.

Example: 500 meters into a race, your crew is starting to lose seats to another crew and begins to panic and starts rushing their slides.

Call:  “All right 8, we feel the other boat.  Let’s hold them off with patience on our slides. Keep our boat running between strokes. Stern pair(or whoever is allowing the panic to creep in), lead us with length and sending. We’re going to hold them off.  On this one!”

Then follow up with feedback

Call:  “Yes, 8 we held them to 4 seats with patience on our slides. Excellent. Let’s carry that focus over as we make our move.”

8. Eliminating Filler Comments and Speaking with Purpose

Eliminating filler comments is extremely hard to do, but it will improve your ability to successful motivate and keep your crew “in tune” with your calls. One tip is to record yourself and count how many times you use filler comments. Set goals at each practice to reduce these words.  For example if you don’t know why you’re saying it you probably shouldn’t be.


“That’s it!”  ̶  Possible filler word

“That’s it, we just increased our spacing half a foot!”  ̶   Knowledge behind what you are saying”

Source: “The Coxswain Encyclopedia.” 3rd ed. The Foundation for Rowing Education inc, March 2009. Print.

Click here to purchase the full Coxswain Encyclopedia


Is It Time to Upgrade?

The NK team wants to support our customers and make things as easy as possible! That’s why we developed the customer care discount program.

If there is a product that you’re interested in but don’t want to pay full price, chances are you won’t have to! Customers that already own an NK product and want to upgrade to a newer model can simply check the trade-in value guide on our website here. It doesn’t matter how old the product is, NK will provide you with a product credit that will save you money!

Want to know how it’s done? It’s easy!

  1. Make your purchase on NK’s website at full price.
  2. When your package arrives, take out the packing slip and make a copy of it.
  3. Send the old NK product back along with the packing slip (within 30 days) in a box marked “Customer Care Program”.
  4. Once NK receives your package, your account will be credited for the corresponding trade-in value!

View all of the trade-in values of NK’s products here.

Optimize Your Sprint

By: Jamie Baffa, NK Sports Performance Customer ServiceJamie

How high is too high? When gearing up for the last strokes of a race, you want to make sure you aren’t “spinning your wheels” by raising the stroke rate beyond what is effective for your crew. It’s easy to let adrenaline take over as the rate climbs in the last meters of a race without thinking about efficiency. As you work through the gears during the sprint, you can’t sacrifice timing, rhythm and speed just to hit a higher rate. During the sprint the goal is not to simply hit a higher rate, but to move the boat faster as you cross the line.

One way to practice the sprint and make sure you’re hitting you optimal, and not just your maximum, stroke rate is to do a series of 30 stroke pieces while bumping the rate by 2 beats every 10 strokes. By starting the 1st piece at sub-base rate and using any Speed Coach product you can monitor how effective your changes in rate are. This can show you at what point your speed tapers off as you raise the rate allowing you to develop a more effective strategy going into the last segment of your race.

Applied Ballistics Announces New ‘Kestrel Companion’ App for Android

The Kestrel Companion application is the perfect complement to your Kestrel Shooter’s Weather Meter with Applied Ballistics for remote viewing of your shooting solution.app Larger image

Now, you can mount your Kestrel Shooter’s Weather Meter with Applied Ballistics on a rotating weather-vane mount, update the range to target, and view the solution right on your phone – all without touching the Kestrel itself.   The large display on your phone or tablet allows a quick view of the elevation and windage holds as well as the current weather conditions and gun parameters.

By placing the Kestrel in wind-capture mode, your shooting solution will automatically update on the display with the measured wind values and wind direction.

How it Works

As of the Kestrel firmware version 4.83, the developers at Applied Ballistics have added remote-control capability over the Bluetooth link.   This allows for the range to target to be entered into the Kestrel Companion application and sent directly to the Kestrel.  The Kestrel instantly computes the shooting solution and sends it back to the Companion application – displaying it for easy viewing.


  • Maximize the capability of your Kestrel Shooter’s Weather Meter by allowing it to directly measure the wind speed and direction and still easily view your shooting solution
  • Remote control of your Kestrel Shooter’s Weather Meter over the Bluetooth Link
  • View your shooting solution on a large Android screen.

Enabling Live Wind Capture

  • From the solution screen on your Kestrel Shooter’s Weather Meter, pressing the  button while Wind is highlighted will enter the Wind Capture mode.
  • The label will change to indicate that the Wind Capture mode is enabled.
  • The moving 5-second average for windage and wind speed will be continually displayed on the wind line.
  • The 5-second rolling average wind measurement will be captured in Wind Speed 1 and the highest wind speed will be captured in Wind Speed 2.  This allows you to accurately bracket the wind speed values as well as your shooting solution.
  • When in Wind Capture Mode and connected to the Kestrel Companion application, your windage holds will automatically update on your Android device.

App Screenshots:

screen shots

Updating your firmware to version 4.83
Update your Kestrel with Applied Ballistics to Version 4.83, | Download PDF
Applied Ballistics Firmware Upgrade (4.83) for Bluetooth, | Download ZIP
Applied Ballistics Firmware Upgrade (4.83) for Non-Bluetooth,  | Download ZIP

Kestrel Calibration Tips

Temperature Sensor:  Should not need to be recalibratedKestrel 4000
throughout the life of the  unit.

Pressure Sensor – Should not need to be re-calibrated.

Humidity Sensor – May drift (independent of usage) up to +/- 2% every 24 months.   NK recommends recalibrating every 2 to 3 years.   This can be done in our factory or with our RH Calibration Kit throughout the life of the unit.

Wind Impeller – May drift (dependent on usage) < 1% after
100 hours use at 16 MPH.   NK recommends buying a factory
calibrated replacement impeller every 2 -4 years.

Compass – Does not need to be recalibrated.   If readings are
incorrect, customer can recalibrate compass.

Mounting the SpeedCoach® GPS Impeller Correctly

If you are having issues getting readings when using the SpeedCoach® GPS in impeller mode but have no issues with either a SpeedCoach Red / Gold / XL, then the issue is that the impeller and sensor are not mounted close enough to each other.   To properly get impeller readings from a SpeedCoach GPS, please mount the impeller directly below the sensor.  This can be a little tricky and may require two people to identify the correct location to mount it.   One suggestion is to do the following:

1) Place the boat that is having issues on slings near a place with a hose available (if possible).

2) Make sure the Blue sensor is mounted on the very bottom of the hull of the boat.  If not, move from the deck position to the hull.

3) Dismount the impeller from the bottom of the boat.

4) Have one person wave the GPS unit back and forth, while attached to the harness, to simulate a stroke rate.

5)Have the other person spray the hose (or forcefully blow) on the impeller while the stroke rate is being simulated.   Move this impeller around the bottom of the boat until a reading is shown on the unit.

6) Once you have identified the mounting location where the impeller is being picked up, remount the impeller to this spot.

7) Now your boat should be able to pick up the impeller when using your GPS unit.

The Benefits of Training with Heart Rate

By: Jamie Baffa, NK Customer Service Representative

JamieIn order to compete effectively rowers need to log countless steady states to develop a strong aerobic base. The question then becomes how do I maximize my gains during those long steady state rows? The most effective way is by monitoring your heart rate and adjusting the intensity of your work accordingly. By utilizing constant heart rate monitoring you can guarantee your body continues to use its aerobic systems without introducing painful lactic acid into the blood stream. For long steady states you want to stay at 75% of your maximum heart rate throughout the entire workout. For most athletes this will be between 150-160bpm. By constantly monitoring your heart rate you can ensure that you do not transition from aerobic to anaerobic work in the middle of a steady state thereby maximizing your training and giving you a leg up on the competition.

Gateway to the Battlefield: A Sniper and His Optic

IMG_0125Author: Christopher Rance

A defining moment for a sniper is when he can positively identify a threat within his area of operation and exercise certain actions, from an intelligence report to target neutralization. The ability to identify a target is vital in a stability operation or counterinsurgency (COIN) environment, where precisely aimed fire is at a premium and collateral damage isn’t an option.

The Basics: Calibrating your Rifle Zero

Military sniping is an application that involves both precision and accuracy. Precision is the characteristics of the rifle and ammunition. Precision is how well it prints group sizes, whereas accuracy is an indication of how a group of shots hit relative to the intended aim point, regardless of group size. The requirement for great accuracy is having a reliable zero. When you zero your weapon from different support positions, you can incur a different POI. For the traditional sniper role, this will be from the prone bipod position. Realistically, the sniper will not always be able to shoot from the prone bipod position. Positional shooting (kneeling, standing) and even off a tripod is highly likely. A recommendation is to analyze POI shifts from those alternate support positions on a dot drill target at your zero range. If you see that when you shoot off a tripod you generally shoot .2 MILS low, you can accommodate for that error and add .2 MILS to your firing solution. Other POI shifts in your weapons zero can come from temperature effects and harmonics. Annotate these changes and account for them. Lastly, when zeroing, a three shot group isn’t recommended. A five round shot group, shot five times will give a good representation of the rifles inherent precision.

Un-calibrated sight adjustments are a common problem in long range shooting. Many snipers take for granted that when they dial up or hold a certain correction in a reticle, that they’re getting exactly the intended correction. In reality, it’s generally more often that there is some amount of error in a scopes turret or reticle. As with every other measurement instrument, the turrets and reticle need to be verified before it can be trusted. The test to use to conduct the calibration is called “The Tall Target Test”. The tall target test is conducted in the following manner; *Remember, the tall target test is a calibration exercise, so it’s very important to know the exact zero range. Verify with a LRF or tape measure.

Tall Target Test

  1. Put up a tall target (36” tall) at your 100 (meter/yard) zero range. Have an aim point at the bottom of the target and a plumb line (leveled line) drawn up from the center of the aim point. You can use a carpenter’s level or a plumb bob to draw the vertical line.
  2. Shoot the lower aim point to verify your zero. Now dial your elevation turret up 30 MOA or 10 MILS. Still shoot at the aim point when doing this.
  3. After you have fired your groups, you can calculate the correction factor for that given scope. Measure from the zero group to the actual group for your 30 MOA increments.
  4. Correction Factor: 1 MOA equals 1.047” @ 100 yards. 30*1.047=31.41” Let’s say your scope only moved 29.5”, it’s only moving 94% as far as it should when it’s adjusted, 6 % less than it should move. Therefore, when you have to dial for elevation, you have to dial 106% of the intended adjustment. Example: You have a target that requires 30 MOA of elevation, but by doing the tall target test, you know that you actually need to dial 30*1.06=31.8 MOA in order to get a true 30 MOA on the scope.

The tall target test is also a way to check if your scope is vertically tracking correctly. You want to eliminate any cant. Leveling your scope is very important and a necessity for long range shooting. Shooting with a verified leveled rifle and scope will promote in better wind reading since it will allow you to observe wind effects directly without an unknown component of cant. By shooting the tall target test with your level installed, you will assure your wind zero in calibrated. Every sniper should have a scope level installed in order to prevent the accuracy damaging effects of cant.

MOA Consistency Errors
When it comes to a MOA standard across the industry, many manufactures fall short. Many manufactures will advertise MOA adjustments but fail to specify if the turrets and/or reticle are SMOA (shooter minute of Angle 1MOA= 1” @ 100 yard), IPHY (Inches per hundred yards) or TMOA (true minute of angle = 1.047” @ 100 yard). This type of error equals a miss at 1000 yards. This can create a huge dilemma for a sniper team if one shooter is using X brand of scope and the other is using Y brand of scope. You’re speaking two different languages. One manufacture gets this right and that is Nightforce optics. They offer clear and concise descriptions of their scope turrets and reticles in the user manual.

Echelons of Capability
The latest craze taking over the military sniper community is the use of MIL based grid system reticles. Calibrated in USMC mils (6283 mils/circle) (1 mil = 3.60 inches at 100 yards) (10cm at 100 meters). These reticles let you visually place the target on the appropriate horizontal and vertical grid lines to correct for elevation and windage visually without turning knobs or counting clicks. These reticles are great for when you are in desert mountainous regions where you can generally see dust fly from misses, but once you move into an area of operation such as the Philippines, where foliage is dense, this type of reticle gets lost. A finer reticle, such as NightForce’s MIL-R reticle or the Mil Dot reticle offered in their scopes is excellent in dense foliage areas. It allows the sniper to stay focused on the center intersecting lines of the scope and offers an uncluttered FOV of the target area.

Designated Marksman Solution

Reticles such as the TReMoR2 and CMR-W reticles are an excellent DM solution. These types of reticles are a full minute of man tools, not long-range precision on partial obscured targets tools. For a line dedicated marksman outfitted with a 16” .308, these reticles can give the DM speed and accuracy to 600m effectively and beyond potentially. Generally, DM’s are rightly being placed on support by fire lines in Afghanistan. Effective support by fire is critical for the assault team’s success and safety. DM’s have the ability to engage point targets on the objective in close proximity to the assaulters. Today’s battle rifles such as the FN SCAR17s and LaRue OBR 7.62, outfitted with a variable power, lightweight scope such as the NightForce NXS Compact 2.5-10×42 in MIL/MIL configuration gives the DM an ideal platform to deliver 175 grain of diplomacy onto targets of opportunity.


Magnification is a function of mission requirement, weight, cost and bulk. Magnification is an enabler when it comes to acquiring positive identification on a HVT (High Value Target) or the presence of small arms. A magnified scope with allow the sniper or DM to ID further and faster than shooters with minimal magnification like an ACOG or Short Dot. 9 or 10x magnification will get you to 1000 yards, but magnification greater than 10x will give you precision aiming for smaller targets or partially exposed targets. One thing you have to be cautious of in First focal plane (FFP) scopes, the stadia line thickness increases with magnification, which could hinder the sniper in refining his aim point. Scopes with larger magnifications (3-20x and greater) tend to be heavier and bulkier then their lighter counterparts. Weight is an important consideration when it comes to mission planning.

In the end, the MISSION will drive the tools necessary to complete the mission. Snipers need to continue to evolve and progress. Don’t let the lessons we learned from over a decade of fighting go by the way side with the drawdown. Continue to reinvent the wheel and fine-tune the greatest all weather, day and night offensive and defensive firing platform, the SNIPER!

 Sources:  Bryan Litz: ” Applied Ballistics for Long Range Shooting.” 

8 Ways to Take Care of your Cox Box Battery Pack

  1. Do not store or charge your battery pack above 110˚F/ 44˚C.
  2. When charging your battery pack, confirm that it reaches 100% (“FULL”) or a solid green light after 3 to 4 hours of charging.
  3. Take care to ALWAYS align the battery pack correctly in the Cox Box or charger. Ensure that the two alignment bumps are matched with the two alignment grooves, and the single alignment bump is matched with the single groove. DO NOT FORCE THE BATTERY PACK INTO THE COX BOX!! If you need to use force, it is not correctly aligned. If you force an incorrectly aligned battery pack into the unit, it will not charge.  It may also become jammed, crack the pack or can, and/or damage the Cox Box circuitry (See Fig 1).
    cox box battery pack                                        Figure 1 – Cox Box Battery Alignment (click image to enlarge)
  4. Avoid “hot swapping”. Hot swapping refers to switching the batteries while the Cox Box is turned on or charging; therefore please turn off the Cox Box and take it off charge before removing and replacing the battery pack.
  5. Do not ignore error messages! Also realize that ANY error message stops the charging as soon as it is triggered, so your pack may not have fully charged if you see an error message.
  6. Charge your battery pack when its capacity drops below 40%. Lithium ion batteries do not suffer from “memory effect”, so you can partially discharge and recharge them without degrading their performance.
  7. Although there is no memory effect, it is recommended to fully drain your battery pack a few times a season. Draining the battery pack ensures that all three cells are synchronized in their charge level, providing maximum capacity, and that the fuel gauge circuitry is reset, reducing battery charging errors.  Drain your pack by using it until the Cox Box turns off, then allowing the battery pack to sit uncharged (in or out of a Cox Box) for 48 HOURS. You can also simply turn on the Cox Box and leave it on until it turns off (30 hours or so), and then allow the battery pack to sit uncharged for two more days. This is more practical to do if you have at least one spare battery pack in your program.
  8. Remove your battery pack (ideally around 40% charge) from the Cox Box for long-term storage (winter).

Nielsen-Kellerman Blog