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.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 2 Years Ago
      Here's the problem with this - if the shift knob vibrates, someone driving PROPERLY will never feel it, because both hands should be on the wheel AT ALL TIMES unless it's shift time. One should NOT drive with one hand on the wheel and one on the shifter. NOW - a vibrating steering wheel, that would be useful.
        • 2 Years Ago
        Assuming all roads are silky smooth; and that's a huge assumption... in no way reflected in reality.
      • 2 Years Ago
      Wouldn't this be better placed as part of the steering wheel? 3 o'clock position (or 9 o'clock for right hand drivers), so you know when to move your hand off the wheel and onto the shifter?
      • 2 Years Ago
      This would make it a lot easier to teach my wife how to drive my car, which has a manual. I'm not making a dirty joke here. Some people can listen to an engine and feel a car to know how to drive it, especially how to manually shift. Some people (probably most people considering the dominance of automatics), my wife included, seem to completely lack that ability, that connection with the vehicle. I think she's getting better, so maybe it's more of a learned than a natural skill. A vibrating shifter would probably not make my wife an expert manual driver, but it might help her be able to drive my car without destroying it. I'm not sure how much efficiency would be gained with something like this for a seasoned stick shift driver. In the real world, it seems to me that a decent driver can get pretty good mpgs around the city with a stick shift, without electronic reminders. On every automatic gearbox car I've driven, I've gotten mpg numbers that were pretty well under the advertised city mpgs. I probably have a slightly heavy right foot, and my city is stop and go all the time, especially hard on gas mileage. On the highway, I usually come close to matching the advertised mpgs. My current car, is a Versa with stick. It has no lights or bells telling me when to shift. On the highway, I get a little bit better than the stickers mpgs, about what I'd expect if it had a manual. In the city, I get significantly better mpgs than the sticker city number, often better than the sticker highway number.
        • 2 Years Ago
        I think you have the cause and effect mixed up. I don't think that certain people are born unable to tell what the engine is doing, therefore they buy automatics. They buy automatics and then never learn how to tell what the engine is doing and when it's appropriate to shift. If you take someone who has driven an automatic all their lives, teach them to drive a manual I think they'll figure out when to shift in pretty short order without a shift light (or a tachometer).
      • 2 Years Ago
      The problem with this is that most people ignore the shift light not because they can't see it, but rather that's not when they want to shift. I normally don't want to upshift at 1800 RPM unless I've completely stopped accelerating. Most people know when they want to shift their own car, they don't need to be told. Not to mention, if I'm driving and forget to upshift, how does this help me since chances are my hands won't be on the shifter. A better way would probably be to play some sort of tone, of course as stated above, I already know when I want to shift and I really don't want my car telling me.
      • 2 Years Ago
      When I teach both street survival classes and novice autocross classes, we teach both hands on the wheel, shift, both hands on the wheel, shift, rinse and repeat for normal driving. A number of car manuals I've read also instruct you to not leave your hand on the shift knob for mechanical wear reasons, though I take that with a grain of salt. You'll always have more control and finer control with two hands on the wheel versus one. Try autocrossing or racing with one hand on the wheel the whole time. Then apply that experience to trying to avoid an accident.
      • 2 Years Ago
      It's time to shift when I am ready to shift- problem solved.
      • 2 Years Ago
      It's a neat little piece of ingenuity, but it doesn't serve much purpose in 2013. By the time it would hypothetically reach the market, it would be nearly obsolete. Every year manual transmissions become more scarce, and we're to the point where automatics can be the more efficient choice. Most cars don't even have a manual transmission available anymore. Those that do have them and will continue to have them tend to be performance cars, and people who buy those (generally) already understand how to look at a tach and enjoy shifting. People who don't just go for the automatic with paddles.
        • 2 Years Ago
        The US market maybe, but it's a whole different story in europe
      • 2 Years Ago
      pretty cool, but for many manual drivers, you dont need to see the tach or the knob to know when to shift for fuel economy or performance (you can hear the engine). For those who are deaf though, this could have potential.
        • 2 Years Ago
        Well, some cars can be pretty quiet, but super insulated silent as a tomb luxury cars are 99% of the time automatic, and obviously there aren't any gears in a completely engine mute electric.
          • 2 Years Ago
          Even then you should be able to tell from the feeling of acceleration, time on throttle etc.
      • 2 Years Ago
      Perhaps not something we'll see in the car anytime soon - but still neat to see that Ford encourages & fosters creative thinking
      Lloyd Lucas
      • 2 Years Ago
      Too bad real good drivers only touch the shifter when they need to.
      • 2 Years Ago
      For everyone complaining that they don't need this... it's just an exercise to show you what can be done.
      • 2 Years Ago
      I smell bushing wear!!! Mo money for me!
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