Necessity is the mother of invention. The struggles Ronnie Cole, Southside Virginia Community College Instructor, endured while solely trying to hook his utility trailer to his truck got him thinking; there has to be a better way. So, the idea of the “self-aligning trailer guide” was born.
Cole contemplated geometric concepts and decided to make his first prototype a two piece design. The first piece mounted on the truck and the other on the trailer that can align left to right, then some other reference would be needed to determine the depth. Cole stated that with the alignment and the depth accounted for, in theory, the product would work.
With the geometric concepts in mind, Cole created his first raw prototype of the “self-aligning trailer guide” and it worked on the first try. Cole then approached Clint Johnson, fellow SVCC Instructor, about taking this “self-aligning trailer guide” prototype and improving it as a class project. The project would allow students to use all the equipment in the industrial design lab as well as teach critical thinking on a real world project.
Under the direction of Cole and Johnson the students actually manufactured in-house all the components of the trailer aligning project. Students had to write the program to cut out components on the Computer Numerical Control (CNC) lathe as well as write a Computer-Aided Design (CAD) program to engrave the Plexiglas on another piece. Cole stated that Johnson came up with an innovative way to make a spiral cut in the PVC pipe that was critical in the function of the final product.
Cole said, “As the process moved forward students kept coming up to me asking, what if we tried this, what if we tried that, would it work this way, I could see them using critical thinking trying to improve the product. In our classes Clint and I preach to our students that if you can use critical thinking to solve problems you can do anything.”
Cole explained that the product is even more precise than having a friend stand behind your truck and try to guide you where to go, he said the product takes out the human error aspect.
Cole has not decided on a formal name for his product but has been considering names such as “Hitch-N- Go, Hitch Master, or Bulls-eye Hitch,” but for now it is called the “self-aligning trailer guide.”
Cole recently applied for a provisional patent for the “self-aligning trailer guide” product that will protect his idea/concept for one year. His plan is to sell the idea to a trailer company or any manufacturer interested in producing the product for mass consumer use. Cole said, “No matter what the future holds for his idea, it was a great class project and works fine on his truck.”