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Summary:

Automobiles generate tons of data that car makers have access to, but you can use it too. One Ford engineer combined that data with a 3-D printer shift knob that tells drivers which shift points provide optimal fuel efficiency.

Ford smart shifter

What happens when you combine open source software, 3D printing, an Arduino microcontroller and some automotive engineering smarts? You get a manual transmission shift knob that vibrates so you shift at the most energy efficient points.

That’s exactly what Zach Nelson, a junior engineer at Ford, created by combining those parts, along with the haptic motor from an Xbox 360 controller to make the shifter knob vibrate at the optimal shift times. According to Wired magazine, the knob can be programmed not just for fuel efficiency but also for top performance.

Here’s a look at how the pieces came together:

Ford’s OpenXC platform is the central piece to this puzzle. The software provides access to vehicle data and lets developers use that data in devices or apps: Essentially, this an API for your vehicle. Once a programmer has access to that information, it can be combined with objects — the XBox 360 game controller’s haptic motor, for example, or a 3D printed knob — to bridge the digital world and the physical world. For his device, Nelson eventually integrated an LCD display on the knob’s top that shows which gear the driver is in.

As someone who just bought a new car with manual transmission, I can appreciate Nelson’s engineering prowess.

My Fiat 500 Abarth has a gigantic “Shift Up” light on the left of the dashboard, for example. Of course, I can tell when I should shift based on experience and the engine sound. But my shifting may not be optimal for fuel efficiency. And with a vibrating shifter knob, my eyes don’t have to leave the road for that big “Shift Up” display, making for a safer ride too.

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  1. My dad can use this. He thinks there are no gears between 1 & 4 :)

  2. The whole car already vibrates if the gear is wrong. Seems the device is of use where population mustly used automatic gear drives.

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