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Dave Phillips writes about the start, and finish, of the laser measure.

I recently received an e-mail from Dudley Calder, who is based in Spain, the content of which transported me back in time to the early 1990s and the good of days of Preston Guild Hall. I soon found myself in the loft looking through my boxes of memorabilia in the hope that I still had the item that Dudley was talking about. The good news was that I still had it, but would it still work after almost 20 years? After a little clean yes it did! I think it’s time that I let you in on the secret of what we are talking about. Here is Dudley’s e-mail to me:

“Hi Dave. Could you include an article on laser measures with respect to bowls? Several people here in Spain have expressed an interest on this subject.”

Whilst I am not aware of any recent developments in this area, I was involved back in the early 1990s with tests involving the ‘sonic measure,’ which was being developed by Thomas Taylor, now known as Taylor Bowls, and Ivorson Design Limited, who were based in Kent. The sonic measure, also known as the Thompson Taylor measure, underwent a testing programme by the World Indoor Bowls Council which was then the organising body for the televised events, including the world championships. My colleague David Higgs and I were given one of these measures to trial with the possibility of using them at T.V. events.


In tests, the device was proved to be very accurate when being used to measure one bowl against another. However, there were some anomalies when using it for multiple bowl measures and despite my efforts to trial it in a T.V. event, the decision was made by the powers that be at the time that it would not be used. I also understand that this decision was supported by the players at the time. Technology has moved on since the 1990s and I am sure that the anomalies found then can now be overcome should a manufacturer wish to develop a similar device today; I and many others would certainly be prepared to assist in its development.

The sonic measure was supplied with the following user instructions…

The Thompson Taylor Measure

Dear Customer,

Congratulations on your purchase of this ‘IVORSON’ designed bowls distance measure.

Although highly sophisticated, the measure is delightfully simple to use. By referring to this guide you will be able to enjoy the features of very accurate ultrasonic measurement during your games. We hope this will enable you to concentrate on your play, freed from the tensions of the ‘doubtful measure.’

Due to the shelf life difficulties of batteries, the measure is supplied without a battery fitted. It requires a PP3 battery which should be fitted in the battery holder in the base of the unit, whilst the unit is switched off.

The measure can now be switched on and is ready for use. It should be placed between the ‘jack’ and ‘bowl’ to be measured on a direct line between the two. Whilst this is not essential in the majority of measures (as the unit has built in alignment allowance), it is important in instances where the difference between the measure may be ½ a millimetre or less. The lower of the two transducer windows should point towards the ‘jack’ and the measure should be roughly 1/3 of the distance from the jack to the bowl to be measured.

The display will show three figures, followed by a decimal point and a fourth figure. As the sensitivity of the measure is high, the first three figures will reveal the difference in measures in 90%-95% of cases. For those instances where the first three figures are identical, the last figure will be used. This figure may switch from one to the next i.e. .6 to .7 now and again. This is normal and is due to the fact that the display only shows to one decimal place. Therefore, the electronics average out if the measurement is say .699. As the unit is measuring four times a second, it sometimes latches on the +.001 side so tripping the display .7. When this occurs, the measurement should be taken as the most commonly occurring figure. As the figure displayed after the decimal point represents 12 thousandths of an inch, it can be seen that the instances where the last figure is required to settle a measure is likely to be minimal.

Given the same care extended to any calculator, ‘The Measure’ should give many years of service and simplified measuring.

I have no doubt that the flickering last digit was one reason why it did not gain the confidence of the players and authorities at the time. The other downside was when it was used on indoor greens, where the majority of my testing took place, if someone walked close to the measure, the movement of the boards or carpet also affected the measure or at least caused the display to alter.

CAPTION 1: The sonic measure still gives a reading after all these years.

CAPTION 2: This is the lower transponder that faced the jack.

CAPTION 3: This is the upper transponder that faced the bowl.