Ford's New Shift Knob Teaches You to Drive Stick

In this touchscreen, push-button, mouse-click world, there's an undeniable mechanical satisfaction about driving a manual transmission. A perfectly rev-matched downshift proves to the world that you're the master of the machine, not vice-versa. But if you're a stick shift novice raised on video games, how will you teach your button-mashing hands to finesse a gear lever? An inventive Ford engineer has your answer in a smart shift knob that tells you when to shift.

With the guts of an XBox 360 controller buried inside, engineer Zach Nelson's 3D printed shift knob vibrates when it's time to shift gears. It can be set to teach you when to shift for the best fuel efficiency (keep those RPMs low) or screaming acceleration (wind that sucker out!). And if you get lost among the gears, an LED display on the top of the knob tells you what gear you're in. An Arduino controller and an Android tablet communicate with the car's on-board diagnostics system to see what the engine's doing and figure out the best shift point. While you probably won't see this shift knob on any Focuses at your local Ford dealership any time soon, since it works on Ford's open-source system for in-car electronics, you could 3D print and hack together something like this yourself.

Automotive purists will groan that a person should know innately when to shift, as if every baby was born with an instinctual ability to double-clutch. And that grinds my gears. We automotive types have been too busy crying about how the manual transmission will soon disappear forever to figure out a way to get more folks to do the three-pedal dance. Tech like this makes learning to drive a stick more approachable for those who've never tried it, and if it wins over some new clutch converts I'm all for it. Because while machines may be building all our cars, humans should be having fun driving them. [Ford via Wired]

Image by Ford