What would five Grand Rapids engineers with expertise in photonics do if they got laid off? Set up target practice for fun and profit using your everyday smartphone, that’s what.

Steve Peterson and his compadres who once worked for X-Rite Inc. have invented a way to count in a matter of seconds the number and position of hundreds of shotgun pellets that hit a specially designed target, just by snapping a photo with an iPhone or iPad.

That’s big news for shotgun enthusiasts who hunt small game or blow apart clay pigeons for sport. They are keenly interested in knowing how accurately they can hit a target at a set distance or how a choke really affects the shot pattern, but dread counting hundreds of pellet holes in a target to find out.

“One of the hardest things to do is patterning a shotgun,” Steve says. “It may take some guys three hours to count them manually. And two different people will come up with two different answers for the same target.”

Enter Target Telemetrics, the brainchild of Steve and four other engineers who were swept from X-Rite during a jarring corporate restructuring with Gretag Macbeth, then purchase by Danaher Corp.

“There were two R&D departments in the combined companies, and the R&D department in Kentwood was locked in battle with the R&D department in Regensdorf, Switzerland,” Steve says. “Regensdorf won.”

After the layoffs, Steve’s group discovered their expertise in photonics -- the technology of harnessing the peculiar properties of light -- didn’t translate to other immediate opportunities, so they created one of their own: West Michigan Photonics. While that startup had potential, it couldn’t scale up fast enough to more than a consulting house, Steve says.

Over the months, everyone found other full-time employment, but the group continued to share interest in light science and another avocation: firearms.

“We finally said: Let’s launch something just for the fun of it,” says Steve, an NRA certified instructor for pistols. The interest in guns was a perfect melding with their expertise -- non-contact measurement of surfaces and data analysis.

Target Telemetrics software isn’t loaded with clever icons, but it is impressively powerful. Kill rates for goose, turkey, mallard, quail, rabbit and squirrel? Got ‘em. How about the way the clay pigeon is traveling -- on its edge or full profile? It’s there. Windage, elevation, kill zone, voids, density. It’s on target.

With a product for handguns and an Android version of its software in the works, Steve and his partners are sighting-in the market for serious gun enthusiasts. Let’s hope they have a successful hunt.

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