If rookie Ford engineer, Zach Nelson had created a novelty vibrating shift knob on the payroll Alan Mulally might have told him to vibrate his things into a box. Luckily Nelson was smart. His wiggly shifter does much more than tickle palms to prompt gear shifts.
He built the invention from a digital model of a shift knob borrowed from a Ford Focus ST. Using a 3D model printed on a MakerBot Thing-O-Matic (seriously), he outfitted it with a mini-USB port, LED display and vibration motor from an Xbox 360 game controller.
Originally intended to adorn the shift stick on a Ford Mustang Shelby GT500, Nelson’s device utilizes Ford's OpenXC research platform, which uses wireless Bluetooth to share vehicle data from an on-board diagnostics port. In other words, XC gives wrench-head developers the ability to create apps they can tune a car with, even to create new hardware as Nelson did.
Ford is proud to note that, “After learning how to build a mobile app, Nelson designed one that could use real-time engine data, such as revolutions per minute, or rpm; accelerator pedal position; and vehicle speed to calculate the optimum shift points for the manual transmission. The data are transmitted from the car’s OBD-II port to a tablet computer over a wireless Bluetooth connection using the OpenXC adapter. For testing and development purposes, the tablet uses a USB cable to send the shift knob signals to vibrate like a game controller or phone.”
The vibrato knob can be installed on different vehicles with minor calibrations to the app. Wherever it's mounted, Nelson's program monitors a driver's tendencies through speed and throttle use, allowing the app to automatically tailor the vehicle's shift points to suit. Users can also tweak their ride by manually programming the app to boost performance or fuel efficiency.
Well done, Nelson. Not just anyone takes a look at their Xbox controller and is inspired to create a multi-faceted marketing tool. If there’s a more clever reason to experiment with video games on the job I haven’t heard it yet.
Watch the shifter come to life here.