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74296-Gadget Keeps Suspension Even A
Nice DIY Air suspension system

Gadget Freak James Kinney was looking for a way to take the pressure off the back end of a tow truck when it’s carrying a heavy load. If you can equalize the pressure of the truck bed so all the weight is not on the back end, there will be less stress to the truck’s suspension system. Kinney developed the air suspension system, called the Mechatronic Microcontroller, in his mechatronics’ class at Colorado State University. The gadget uses a resistive touchscreen from an electronic Sudoku game to select the ride height of the tow truck’s bed to make it level, thus spreading the stress of the towing weight evenly across the truck’s suspension.

Phillip Torrone

Editor at large – Make magazine. Creative director – Adafruit Industries, contributing editor – Popular Science. Previously: Founded – Hack-a-Day, how-to editor – Engadget, Director of product development – Fallon Worldwide, Technology Director – Braincraft.


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Comments

  1. celeriac says:

    Someone vet the physics on this one. If you put a heavy weight on the back of a truck bed, and then level the truck… there is still a heavy weight on the back of the truck bed. Air suspension does not move substantial amounts of mass around.

  2. meh says:

    @celeriac: You are correct. Consider this another case of bloggers not understanding basic physics/engineering principles, not reading & comprehending the content before summarizing it, or not caring about accuracy and relying on their readers to edit and correct their posts. It gets a little tiring after a while, and it seems to be a universal problem with ALL these DIY tech oriented blogs.

  3. Phillip Torrone says:

    @meh, instead of complaining or being snarky, why don’t you discuss the physics of this project the student made.

    if you read this carefully, it’s about moving the *stress* of the load from one place to another, perhaps it shifts the weight around – if you’ve flow on a plane before from time to time they ask people to move to balance the load out.

    also, you can likely email the maker and ask.

    the summary is from the *maker* not us, we try and have the maker explain what they’re doing.

    less snark, more productive k?

    we’re not like any other tech site and i’d say we have the most scientists and engineers compared to other sites.

    but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for discussion, if you want to keep things smart here, contribute :)

  4. meh says:

    @PT: I would tend to agree, however unless the student that developed this project enjoys writing about himself in the third person, I’ll continue to attribute the summary that was posted to some faceless, nameless writer from the Design News Staff.

    I do believe there is a difference between suspension leveling (what this project actually does) and load leveling (what it claims to do). A minute or two of thought, a simple free body diagram, and a couple weeks of high school physics would probably make it clear.

    What it appears to be, to me at least, is that a project got on the web with little or no review of the copy before being published. Unfortunately that does not reflect well on Design News, or the Design News Staff.

  5. Phillip Torrone says:

    @meh, i’m going to send a note to the maker and design news and will report back.

  6. loosely_coupled says:

    @”meh”
    As the writer said, if you have a problem with the information presented, then by all means voice that opinion — that is what the feedback is for — but you don’t have to be negative and rude.

    As far as your point, I’m not a mechanical engineer and I don’t think leveling the truck would shift weight around, but I’m sure there is some advantage having to do with how the mechanical stresses are distributed or at least the stability and handling of the truck. I guess we need an experienced engineer to comment…

  7. meh says:

    @loosely: Re: my tone; understood. Not trying to be rude, just trying to make a point. I’ll dial it down from now on. Everyday I deal with customers decide they want to use “something great” based on technical documents that read like they were authored by spin artists, rather than application engineers. It gets me grumpy after a while.

    I can see the value in having an adjustable air suspension to handle towing loads of different weights. Maintaining suspension travel over a wide range of loads makes the towing vehicle more versatile, and probably safer. I’m neither a ME, nor do regularly tow anything that I can’t hitch to my bike, so I’d like to hear the experts’ opinions as well.

    I suppose it comes down to semantics, and it’s trivial in the long run, but you’re not going to change the distribution of the load on the towing vehicle’s axles unless you move the point at which the load is attached to the vehicle.

  8. J. Quimbaum says:

    I think this does change the weight distribution on the axles because it changes the position of the center of mass of the load over the axles. Imagine the rear axle as a fulcrum. When the vehicle is heavily loaded, the body tilts toward the rear, thereby shifting the vehicle’s center of mass away from the front axle. This can cause problems with steering, handling, headlight aiming, etc. By leveling the suspension, you are stiffening the suspension over the rear axle and increasing the height of the load over the rear axle, thereby shifting the center of mass toward the front of the vehicle. I believe this is a trigonometry problem.
    Some German station wagons have included this feature for the past 20 years, and if you’re at all interested in French cars, I believe they’ve had self leveling suspension for at least 50 years. Most large dump trucks also incorporate such a feature.

  9. tom obrien says:

    Actually the fulcrum would be the front axle, and the percent of change is maybe 1% at best, unless were talking about maybe 3 plus feet of suspension travel. however you may be returning the castor angle back to the intended angle by leveling the vehicle.

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