Online Meeting: Graham Butler Rejoins Morphing Handcycle Team - We Move Towards Manufacturing

Graham Butler with the very earliest roadable version of Morph 2 - April, 2007. The seat is a piece of plywood, and and the seat back is just the frame. We are on the streets of Dorchester, MA, behind the Nexus Machine and Gallery machine shop where Graham constructed Morph 2. Note the big adjustment struts near his hand. These were intended to adjust the angle of the seat after morphing. They have been replaced by automatic linkages within the morphing design.

We took a very important step today towards getting the Morph into production. We discussed our future in an online meeting conducted with Rory McCarthy (Bath, Maine) the inventor of the Morph , Bill Warner, co-founder of Move With Freedom, and project manager (Cambridge, MA), Alan Ball, industrial designer (Somerville, MA) and Graham Butler, mechanical engineer and founder of and the engineering lead on Morph 2. (By the way, we used for the online screen sharing, and it worked very nicely, and allows up to 5 users for free.)

For about a year now, we have been working to refine the design we now call Morph 4, and solve key issues such as morphing geometry, steering geometry, and seat adjustment and seat tilt correction during morphing. With the latest design for Morph 4 delivered by Alan Ball on Christmas Day, complete with 1/4 scale wooden model see:, we now have a design that is ready to move forward to production.

Graham Butler was our original mechanical engineer on the project, and designed the Morph 2 and Morph 3 prototypes. (We then took the lightweight front end of Morph 3 and mated it with the smooth-morphing rear end of Morph 2, and created Morph 2.5, which is what Rory is riding now.)

Now Graham will be taking the mechanical engineering lead again to bring Morph 4 forward into a production vehicle. Graham’s company is currently building handcycles, so this production knowledge will applied to the design of Morph 4. Welcome Graham!

Key Items to Work Out For the Production Morph 4.
1. The Footrest - We need to design a great footrest that handles the wide range of issues that the Morph presents. First, now that the seat automatically adjusts as you morph up and down, your seat bottom will be tilting at different angles relative to the footrests. This means that that your feet will move up and down in the footrest. We’ll need some kind of movable element to give you support at the bottom of your foot. And the under-the-leg supports will also have to allow sliding of the leg up and down.
2. Adjustable Lift System - A gas shock (shown in green) provides the lift that makes the rider “weightless.” There is no motor for morphing. You just grab the wheels, and because the gas shock is compensating for your weight, you can pull yourself up with no effort.

But the lift system has to balanced to each rider. One way to do this is to order each gas shock at a custom force. But this means that the others cannot try the Morph, or if they do, they won’t have that wonderful weightless feeling. Too heavy, and they will morph down quickly and have a hard time getting up. Too light and they won’t be able to morph down and will pop up.

So, we desire an adjustable lift system. Ideally, one could adjust the lift in seconds, either to suit their riding tastes, or for a new rider. We don't believe you can adjust the gas spring itself. However, you could remove and reinstall the gas spring in a slightly different location so it has a different mechanical advantage. And, this could be combined with some mechanical springs that could be tensioned more or less to adjust the lift.

We believe that the spread of the morphing concept depends on people trying the machine, and that can only happen if the lift system is easily adjustable.
3 - Mid Morphing Lock - Currently, the Morph locks in the low position, and in the high position. (These latches, by the way, have been problematic as far as reliability.) For Morph 4, we believe that some mid-morph locking positions are important. For example, you’d like to lock the the morph at a convenient height for wheelchair transfer. You’d also like to lock it at a good “upright handcycle” height for riding around town, rather than at the fastest road speeds which would occur in the low rider mode.

Designing the mid-morph lock is tricky, because the morph moves over such a wide range. Here I show a mid-morph lock concept (in yellow), that will lock in a few positions, and then stows below the black morphing arm. The rider rotates it up to use it.

Philip Robson and Advanced Tubular Polymer Technology (Drinking Straw) Demonstrates an Intermediate Lock for the Morphing Handcycle

The Morphing Handcycle has always had a tricky issue: can we stop the morphing part way for getting on and off, or even for riding? So far, we haven't been able to figure out a way that works easily, and that can handle the forces that occur during riding. On Christmas Day, Alan Ball delivered this wooden model with the goal that we could figure out some of the remaining design issues by using the 3D system used by the ancients: Something you can hold in your hand and grunt at.

Here's our advanced polymer, along with a linear fiber-based green material (wood). This unit will stow below the two flanking tubes, leaving room for the red part of the frame to nestle between the two black parts. Then the rider will deploy the lock by rotating what here is a wooden dowel.

Here we see the lock deployed to it's proposed "middle" position.

Here, the lock is rotated further forward, and will lock the bike at a higher position. Note that the lock is mostly in compression, but there will be some of positive lock to handle negative forces (tension)

Now we're in the lowest position that the lock can handle.

A wider view of the lock, now in the lowest intermediate position.

The lock in the "stowed" position. Well, kind of. It will actually have to stow below the flanking members. The hinge that holds the lock will also be a bridge that supports the two parallel frame members.

This is how the lock rotates into position. It will mate with something that that's on the red main tube.

Philip Robson helped design this intermediate lock. Bill and Philip worked out many different positions for the lock, and this one turned out to have the best characteristics. My niece, Molly, gets much credit for bringing Philip to visit Boston from London, where they both live.