While manual transmissions are a lot better than automatics, many people still don’t know how to drive them. However, whether you’re a youngster with a learning permit, or are just starting out on a manual transmission, Ford wants to make the learning process a bit easier, with a new shift knob that tells you when to shift based on haptic feedback.
Zach Nelson, a junior engineer at Ford, came up with an idea to help newbies learning how to use a manual transmission. By tearing apart an Xbox 360 controller and using its vibrating motors, Nelson 3D-printed a custom shift knob and placed the motors inside in order to give drivers haptic feedback. Whenever the driver needs to shift, the shift knob will vibrate.
Nelson installed the shift knob in a Ford Mustang by tapping into the car’s diagnostic system and connected the shift knob to the car using an Arduino controller, an Android tablet, and a Bluetooth receiver. From there, Nelson can program the knob to vibrate at different times, like vibrating as the engine redlines, or vibrate at a more fuel-efficient rev point.
The prototype shift knob that Nelson built also includes a seven-segment display on top to show what gear the car is currently in. Nelson says that was merely just a fun thing he added, since drivers probably won’t look down anyway to see what gear they’re in, as the instrument panel already displays this information.
Of course, it’s not necessarily when to shift that’s the hard part in learning a manual transmission — that was actually the easiest for me. I had the most trouble with getting out of neutral and going to first gear, and I would always stall the car at stop lights, which was pretty embarrassing. If they can discover a learning-assist tool for that, then I’ll be good.