I grew up driving a stick, as in a manual car. It’s a soon to be, for lack of better words, a lost art. The majority of cars that role off the assembly line today are outfitted with automatic transmissions. One, because most, Americans in particular, only know how to drive an automatic car. Two, the transmissions of today are profoundly fast, out shifting any human under the sun. However, because of this paradigm shift, few drivers today struggle to leverage the Tiptronic gearboxes that allow them to shift through the vehicle’s gears by either pulling up and down on a stick shift, or by tapping a paddle located behind the steering wheel. They either shift too soon, shift into the wrong gear, or simply don’t understand how the system works or what it means. To address this quandary, Ford’s Zach Nelson, a junior engineer, developed an intuitive system to train drivers.
At a glance Nelson’s device appears to be no more than a white shifter knob. But peer a bit closer and you’ll see that it has been outfitted with a small LED screen to display the gear selected. But that’s not all. Inside of the gear shifter is the haptic feedback motor out of an Xbox 360 controller, which cues the driver to shift by vibrating. Combined with an Android tablet, a Bluetooth receiver, and an Arduino controller, Nelson was able to connect the custom shifter knob to a Mustang’s on-board diagnostic system using Ford’s open source OpenXC software platform. Connected directly to the car – which can relay engine speed and accelerator position – this allows data to be fed directly to the stick, and can prompt the driver to shift to attain the car’s best fuel economy, or simply avoid red lining the car.
Ford’s OpenXC is apparently one of the first in the industry, and should allow aftermarket companies the ability to create a variety of parts that are sanctioned, and more importantly safe.