‘A competitive advantage’
September 14, 2022
This story by Matt Baney appeared in The Lewiston Tribune on Sept. 6, 2022.
It was Labor Day weekend three years ago when University of Idaho engineering professor Matthew Swenson first listened to a pitch for a new sort of suspension system from Ted Carton.
This was nothing new for Swenson. In his role at UI, he often hears from people who think they have an idea for “the next great invention, and they want me to do the work for it, invent it, for free,” he said.
But his encounter with Carton was different. For one thing, Carton’s suspension system concept appeared to be practical and had potential commercial value, Swenson said. Plus, the Clarkston man, who is now 89, was more interested in seeing his idea become a reality rather than getting rich from it.
Three years later, the collaboration between the two men and others seems to be progressing nicely. Swenson has built prototypes of a pickup trailer and a bicycle trailer that use the suspension system, for which they have secured a provisional patent. The next phase is applying for a full patent and seeking manufacturing partners that want to use the design.
While Swenson leads those efforts, Carton is eager to see other ideas of his become reality.
“These other projects I have will help probably all over the world,” Carton said. “It will make it a cleaner world, a more productive world. I’m at the age I want to have good things for people in all countries.”
But more on that later.
The suspension system proposed by Carton and brought to life by Swenson uses a lever and a spring to direct some of the “shock load,” as Swenson called it, downward toward the road.
So if a normal trailer runs over a 2-by-4, it might bump 3 inches off the ground; with the prototype trailer, the bump is about half that, said Swenson, who ran that very test.
In a design feature added by Swenson, the two sides of the suspension are connected with a torsion bar, which results in any shock load being absorbed by both suspension apparatuses.
“It reduces the amount the trailer leans by around 50% and it reduces the shock load that comes up into the trailer by about 50%,” Swenson said.
The professor acknowledges that such an improvement probably wouldn’t sway people who use a trailer to haul grass clippings to the dump.
But for those with more valuable cargo, there might be an appeal. Imagine a horse trailer that lessens the impact of a cross-country road trip on a champion thoroughbred by 50%.
“That’s a competitive advantage,” Swenson said.
Swenson, an avid cyclist, also created the bike trailer to answer a demand he’s heard: No product is on the market that allows a rider to bring a disabled friend or family member on a journey. His prototype trailer has a smooth ride, thanks to the suspension system, and an electric motor from an e-bike, which makes it so the cyclist doesn’t have to supply all of the power.
The group kept these projects under wraps until they had the provisional patent for the suspension system and another such patent for Swenson’s powered bike trailer concept. Now they’re trying to get the word out.
“We’re just testing the market,” Swenson said. “That’s kind of the stage we’re at, to gauge if there are some potential buyers out there.”
If they find a manufacturing partner that wants to use these concepts, that company would pay a licensing fee to UI. The university would get some of the money, and the rest would be paid as royalties to those who worked on the project: Swenson, Carton, some UI staff and students, and a Carton partner named Bob Howell.
The suspension concept is somewhat based on an idea Carton’s father had a patent for decades ago. But it was never fully developed until Swenson came into the picture.
“It ended up in a good situation with this gentleman right here,” Carton said of Swenson. “It wouldn’t be to this point if it wasn’t for him. And me. And maybe Bob Howell.”
If you think Ted Carton is satisfied with just one of his concepts becoming reality, think again.
“I have more,” he said. “I have at least 11 other projects.”
One of his ideas is a process to harness kinetic energy. If that was successfully developed, it would be a boon for the environment and improve living conditions for people all over the world, he said.
Any money his makes from the suspension system will be put toward his other projects. And he has a novel idea for raising more money: He owns a parachute that was apparently used by the Apollo 12 spacecraft on its return voyage from the moon in 1969, and he plans on selling it on eBay.
The Apollo 12 parachute and other silk material related to the Apollo 11 mission — the original moon landing — were given to Carton’s family by friends in the 1970s. Carton said it amazes him every time he thinks about the significance of the fabric.
“It went from the Earth to the moon and back again. That little piece of cloth helped bring those men back to Earth safely.”
Carton, a great-grandfather nine times over, spent most of his career rebuilding alternators and starters. But he did lots of other work, and now hands out business cards that label him as “inventor.”
Carton’s ideas sometimes seem overly optimistic, and Swenson isn’t involved in his other projects “because I do have a day job.”
But “I give him some slack,” Swenson said, “because things he has told me before that I was initially skeptical about have all come to be true. Just like the thing about the Apollo parachute. Then he pulls it out and shows me. ... I give him the benefit of the doubt whenever he tells me something.”
Regardless of any pushback he gets, Carton keeps trying.
“When they say, ‘You can’t do something,’ that’s the time I want to do it,” he said. “What I like about (Thomas) Edison was, he didn’t give up. And that’s kind of my nature. I love science, and if there’s a problem out there, I want to solve it.”
Baney may be contacted at email@example.com or (208) 848-2262. Follow him on Twitter @MattBaney_Trib.
About the University of Idaho
The University of Idaho, home of the Vandals, is Idaho’s land-grant, national research university. From its residential campus in Moscow, U of I serves the state of Idaho through educational centers in Boise, Coeur d’Alene and Idaho Falls, nine research and Extension centers, plus Extension offices in 42 counties. Home to nearly 11,000 students statewide, U of I is a leader in student-centered learning and excels at interdisciplinary research, service to businesses and communities, and in advancing diversity, citizenship and global outreach. U of I competes in the Big Sky and Western Athletic conferences. Learn more at uidaho.edu.