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Ford Mustang's High-Tech Shifting Gives Drivers a Helping Hand

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author photo by Lindsay Martell

In this hyper-automated world, one thing takes a bit of old-fashioned muscle: manual shifting. Fortunately, Ford Mustang is giving us some gaming tech to lend a helping hand to shifting/clutching/stick-driving newbies.

Zachary Nelson, an engineer at Ford's Research and Innovation Center (and a 2012 MIT graduate), has developed a shift knob that vibrates (a term called "haptic feedback") when it's time to shift gears.

Those who drive vehicles with manual transmissions know that shift indicators, while helpful, are often ignored. And for those new to manuals, the learning curve can be downright steep. Nelson found a way to ease that process by alerting the driver with a knob that pulses rather than lights up like old-school indicators. This lets drivers keep their eyes on the road, instead of frantically looking at the dash for instructions on which gear to shift to.

In a video Ford posted on YouTube, Nelson explains that the small yet powerful motor he used was from a Microsoft Xbox 360 game controller, along with a tiny USB port. The pulsating piece is a way to give drivers some peace of mind.

"For people who are new to manual transmission vehicles," he says, "this could be a great way to teach them to shift to the next gear before they have, sort of, the instincts to know when to do that."

The all-white, 3D-printed prototype -- tested in a Ford Mustang Shelby GT500, Focus and Fiesta ST -- features an LED display that shows the gear position and colored lights that glow from within at night. It uses Ford's OpenXC platform (the automaker's open source hardware and software), which also links devices to the vehicle via Bluetooth.

Drivers can be alerted to everything from best fuel efficiency to quickest acceleration, as well as when it's time to forgo the clutch, thanks to feedback generated from within the vehicle's tech hub.

A way for drivers to get a leg up on navigating the manual transmission waters down the line? Game on.

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Ford Mustang's High-Tech Shifting Gives Drivers a Helping Hand