Ford’s Vibrating Stick Shift Helps Novice Drivers Change Gears

Ford’s Vibrating Stick Shift Helps Novice Drivers Change Gears

Open source software and hardware from an XBox created this custom shifter that provides a more intuitive driving experience.

Ross Brooks
  • 29 july 2013

Some people learn to drive an automatic because it’s more convenient, others learn because shifting gears manually poses too much of challenge – thankfully an engineer at Ford has created a device that will make life easier for the second group.

Zach Nelson, a junior engineer at Ford, ripped the haptic feedback motor out of an Xbox 360 controller and put it inside a custom shifter he printed using a MakerBot Thing-O-Matic. He installed an Arduino controller and connected an Android tablet with a mini-USB port and a Bluetooth receiver, then hacked his way into a Mustang’s on-board diagnostic system using Ford’s open source OpenXC software platform.


Using real-time data from the car, Nelson was able to program the shift knob to vibrate when it was time to change gears. Drivers looking for performance can set the shifter to signal when the car approaches redline, or those in search of better fuel economy can be alerted when the most efficient time to shift is.

Nelson tested the device on a few vehicles, including a Mustang and Focus ST – meaning that the shift knob can be installed in almost any car. This makes it the perfect device for a beginner to install in their own car, giving them an easy way to know when to shift.

Customizing the shifter is also a possibility – in one of the cars, Nelson added an LED display to the top of the shift knob, displaying all the gears and which one the car was currently in.


Making use of Ford’s OpenXC software, this could be the first of many after-market apps that tap into a car’s on-board computer and provide additional functions and features depending on a driver’s needs.



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