The hardware uses an infrared break-beam sensor module (a Velleman PEM10D) to detect when a kart passes by. This module is similar to a scaled-up IR reflective object sensor; it combines an IR emitter and receiver on one end, and is pointed at a reflector placed across the track, up to 10 meters away. When a kart breaks the beam, the module reports the event to the rest of the hardware. Only needing electronics on one side allows the unit to be self-contained.
An obvious shortcoming of this system is the inability to differentiate between multiple karts, but for timing a single driver’s performance it does the trick. What’s great about this project is it showcases how accessible hardware is today; a device like this is possible to put together with what are essentially off-the-shelf components available to any hobbyist, using an Arduino as the glue to hold it together. We’d only comment that a red-tinted piece of plastic as an overlay for the red display (and a grey-tinted one for the green) would make the LED displays much easier to read. Still, this is a very clean and well-documented build. See it in action in the video embedded below.
If race timing that can handle multiple vehicles is more your speed, we’ve previously seen DIY lap counters intended for drone racing.