Ford's haptic vibrating manual gearshift knob

Vehicles with manual transmissions have been equipped with shift indicators (illuminated or audible) for decades. While some are used to improve performance, most are designed to encourage more fuel-efficient driving. Regardless of the original objective, nearly all drivers become desensitized or learn to ignore the illuminated lights and arrows after just a few short hours behind the wheel.

Enter Zachary Nelson, a recent MIT graduate and an engineer with Ford. Working at the automaker's Research and Innovation Center in Dearborn, Michigan, Nelson devised a haptic shift knob that vibrates when it's time to select another gear. "I wanted to create something that expands the car's capabilities and improves the experience for the driver," said Nelson. "I decided to use OpenXC to provide a new kind of feedback for the driver through the shift knob."

The process, greatly simplified, has the vehicle transmitting data wirelessly from its on-board diagnostics (OBD) port using a Bluetooth OpenXC adapter. The knob uses the innards of a Microsoft Xbox 360 controller for vibration. "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 Mustang," adds Nelson.

Overall, it's a rather fascinating idea that you can check out in the video below. The software-driven haptic shift knob allows the driver to keep their eyes on the road, while the vibration can be set to alert one of many different parameters, including optimal fuel efficiency, quickest acceleration, maximum torque, redline shifting and so on, giving it many different uses.