If you’ve ever played a video game, you know that the controller is an invaluable tool, capable of sending physical feedback, like a vibration, without you having to take your eyes off the screen.
What if that kind of technology moved to cars? Imagine if the controller – in this case, the manual shift knob – could tell you through vibration when to shift? Maybe you’re new to using a manual transmission, or just want to know the optimum time to shift if you’re looking for the best fuel economy?
Ford engineer Zach Nelson has figured out how to use open source hardware and software, 3D printing, wireless connectivity and Microsoft™ Xbox 360® for haptic feedback for the Ford Mustang Shelby GT500. You might be asking what the heck all that means! Well, the Ford open-source OpenXC software and hardware platform enables developers to create apps that leverage the data available through a vehicle’s on-board diagnostics port to make creative innovation like a vibrating shift knob possible.
Now, a little about Zach: he’s a relative newcomer; he joined Ford in September 2012 through the Blue Oval college graduate program. He graduated from MIT with an engineering degree, and his first assignment was at the Ford Research and Innovation Center in Dearborn, Michigan, where he was introduced to OpenXC. It was there that Zach learned to build a mobile app.
What came next for Zach was designing an app that could use real-time engine data like rpm, accelerator pedal position and vehicle speed to calculate optimum shift points for a manual transmission. He then modified a digital model of the shift knob from a Ford Focus ST and installed various components, including the vibration motor from a Microsoft Xbox 360 game controller.
“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,” Zach explained. “The basic concept of my system could be integrated directly into the car, and used on automatic-transmission vehicles with paddle shifters with electric power steering.” The vibrating knob could be installed on a stock shift lever.
For performance cars like the Mustang, the potential for customization using OpenXC points to a secure future for both tuners and developers alike. And places like the Maker Faire are where do-it-yourself innovative inventions such as Zach created are spotlighted, and it’s for learning and building through workshops and demonstrations. Or, simply put, it’s how inspiration comes to life. And if there isn’t yet an app for that, it’s bound to be here soon, thanks to people like Zach paving the way.