Difftrike Design – Enter the artist

Posted on December 4, 2011


So, I had a real-scale SoapBox proof-of-concept, a toy-sized folding trike concept, and a bunch of difficult ideas to glue together. As usual it looked like I had bitten more than I could chew. Fortunately, another out-of-the-box thinker and professional tinkerer came to my rescue.

Manuel Furtado dos Santos is a Fine artist with quite an experience in handling materials and expressing complex ideas and concepts with them. Like me, he has a tendency towards technology, but he far exceeds my culture in such areas as biology, history, and philosophy. I do like generalists. 😉 And we are both interested in practical sustainability and in contributing with something useful to the future.

So he jumped at the chance to take my ideas and turn them into a real integrated design. The first hurdle was to get him to absorb whatever was swimming around in my head to serve as a starting point; this was no easy task, mainly because we hardly knew each other, and our vocabularies where literally worlds apart. It took a few months to get aligned, but today we pretty much understand each other well. And when we don’t, that’s usually where new value is being created – our discussions are frequently intellectually exhausting (for me at least, because he never stops!) and whenever we drift apart that usually means he’s on to something new and possibly exciting.

He immediately conducted an exhaustive study of recumbent trikes and velomobiles on the Web and proceeded to model with his own hands what he had understood the project was about. Here is Manuel’s handy wire work:

Wireframe model of a foldable trike chassis.

Wireframe model of the whole "velomobile-like" trike.

...and the door swings open!

Now, if I was looking to make a conventional trike or velomobile, he would be quite close to the finish line. It was merely a question of styling and detailing it down to specifics, and it would be almost ready for production. Unfortunately these models follow the conventional form which, as I explained in the previous post’s video about “dynamics”, simply cannot survive my differential-traction-with-a-freewheel platform.

So, a couple of physics lessons and dinners out later, he totally understood my madness. The issue that I created with the centre of gravity is so central to the stability of the vehicle, that it has to be incorporated in the design from the very beginning. The usual proportions of traditional Trikes are useless for us.

Another aspect we started working on was the specifics of the folding frame. He played with a few materials in order to get a feeling of what it is that we really want to build…

Meccano model of the folding chassis (reproduction of my naive Lego version).

We also spent a little time playing with more Lego...

But ultimately what he enjoys working with the most is wood.

When the full weight of the problem was transferred into his head, things really started to pick up the pace and get interesting…

Then he finally kicked it into high gear and brainstormed with transparent paper. These are "some horrible sketches" that I find absolutely fantastic.

At this point I thought that the design process was going too slow because he was limited by his tools. He had doubts about whether the parts would all fit and slide together, and I wanted to see what he could create inside a virtual world without the limitations of the physical world. We could have gone full-power and put him on Solidworks, but I wanted to keep within Freeware and, if possible, Open Source software. Besides, the last thing I’d want is to kill the creative spark of a designer with the heaviness of a full-blown finite element engineering tool.

We set up with Google Sketchup because it was easy enough to use and it looked like it could do some pretty amazing stuff. And it promised a little bit of Physics simulation with plugins like SketchyPhysics too.

And Manuel started to really create…

Posted in: Design, DiffTrike