Video Game Technology for the Ford Mustang

By Tori T.

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.
bill 08/15/2013
I am sorry but this falls into what a former president of Ford ,(The one who thought the Viet Nam war was a great idea) called Gimmick Engineering! I will not have a car with an automatic transmission. You soon know when to shift and you are more connected to your car than any electronic or technological gimmick. People who drive a car with a manual transmission are safer drivers and have fewer accidents.
John 08/14/2013
Why don't you just take some of the rubber dampening out of the shifter linkage? You'll have the same effect.
SoL93GT 08/13/2013
I love Mustangs but this is stupid and would get very annoying quickly. If you can't drive a stick, get an automatic. For fuel economy put a small shift light on the dash, for performance we can handle that ourselves, it's not rocket science.
Carlot 08/12/2013
If you drive stick, you know when to shift.  Don't buy a stick if you need the computer to tell you how and when to shift.  Lots of people drive stick.  I can't believe someone said hardly anyone does in the US.  
CrashN8 08/12/2013
If this is such a bad idea you should also remove your tachometer...  #sarcasm. This is a great idea and use of tactile feedback.
Will 08/12/2013
Waste of money and time. Anyone who needs this feature should "not" be driving a veh. The price of new vehicles is already too high. Better use of new tech. would be to install sensors to detect alcohol in air and render the veh. inop for a period of time.
Jorge Salles 08/12/2013
What ever happened to American muscle? you better worry about your suspensions and weight distribution issues and leave the shifting to us the drivers! no good driver needs his/her car to tell them what to do. keep it simple and powerful. the only vibration we need is the roar of our engines 
Dan S 08/11/2013
The feature is right up there with the shift knob that tells you what gear you are in. Kinda neat for 2 minutes, then a complete waste of money.
Ian B 08/10/2013
why don't you just go with a DSG box and flappy paddles
Shankar N 08/09/2013
Nice. Great job Zach! Trevor, not many here in the US drive manual gear boxes regularly, so this helps.
Ernesto R 08/09/2013
Dumb idea, if I wanted to be told when to shift gears, I'd buy an automatic.
Alfonso T 08/09/2013
If you need your car to tell you when to shift, you shouldn't be driving a stick shift. 
Trevor N 08/09/2013
Why do we need to be told when to manualy change gears? when
the body knows precisely when,whilst we do have automatic boxes in G.B. In the main we drive manuals and know when to change gear, we don,t need vibrators to tell us when,it is as we say second nature.
This looks like wasted effort to me. By the time your brain figures out the knob is vibrating you're into the rev limiter.
Keven S 08/09/2013
Pretty cool new technology! Way to go FoMoCo! Wouldn't mind actually seeing how this performs in real life to determine if it's an added benefit.
Marcelino G 08/08/2013
Nice! Maybe this technology will be the next generation Mustang for 2015.