Harnessing the power of Ford’s open-source platform OpenXC, 3D printing, Bluetooth and a Xbox 360, one of the Detroit automobile manufacturer’s engineers has created a manual shift gear knob that vibrates (haptic feedback) at the perfect time for a gear change. Possibly, nirvana for fans of manual gear shifting and car related video games.
“I wanted to create something that expands the car’s capabilities and improves the experience for the driver," says Zach Nelson, rookie Ford Engineer and mastermind of the Haptic Feedback Shift Knob (HSFK). "I decided to use OpenXC to provide a new kind of feedback for the driver through the shift knob which helps drivers keep their eyes on the road instead of on the car’s instrument panel.”
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Nelson’s HSFK was installed into a Shelby GT500 Mustang along with an app that taps into the Mustang’s real-time engine data by way of the OBD-II port, garnering information such as revs per minute, accelerator pedal position, and speed. It uses this information to ascertain the optimum shift points for manual gear changing. The app then relays the data to a tablet computer via a Bluetooth connection. The tablet, which is wired to the shift knob by USB cable, then prompts the shift knob to vibrate, thus indicating to the driver that it is time to shift gear. It's all made possible by Ford’s OpenXC adapter.
The HSFK started out as a digital model modified from the shift knob of a Ford Focus ST, hollowed to provide a home for the electronics. This was then 3D printed with a MakerBot Thing-O-Matic. Nelson set about equipping the shell with a vibration motor from a Microsoft Xbox 360 game controller and an Arduino controller with a mini-USB port, LED display and colored LED lights.
“The vibrating knob can be installed onto many stock shift levers and I’ve tested it on several vehicles including Mustang and Focus ST,” Nelson says. “I decided to have a little fun with it and installed an LED display on top that shows the gear position and colored lights that glow from inside at night similar to the ambient lighting in a Mustang.”
Moving the HSFK to a different vehicle is fairly straight forward according to Nelson, though the system would need some adjusting to match the torque curve of the new car. Additionally, the app can monitor driving styles (speed and throttle control) and adapt to suit. It can be programmed to determine gear changing points for fuel efficiency, enhanced performance or even comfort, based on predefined modes selected by the driver.
“The OpenXC is a great platform for developing connected apps and aftermarket upgrades, or quickly prototyping features that could eventually be incorporated directly into the vehicle,” Nelson said. “The basic concept of my system could be integrated directly into the car, and used on automatic-transmission vehicles with paddle shifters and electric power steering.”
According to Ford, OpenXC will pave the way for even more custom creations by tuners and car customizers. However, we would like to think that driving simulators and the gaming industry could be equal beneficiaries of this latest innovation.
The app and designs for the HSFK and electronics have been posted on the projects page of the OpenXC platform website.
The video below details the HSFK project and the 3D printing process.