Potential for Open- Source Car Customization Showcased on Ford

Potential for Open- Source Car Customization Showcased on Ford
Jul 26, 2013 | Dearborn, Mich.
Potential for OpenSource Car Customization
Showcased on Ford
Mustang Using OpenXC
• Ford engineer uses motor from Microsoft™ Xbox 360®
game controller to create shift knob that vibrates when a
driver should shift gears in a Ford Mustang Shelby GT500
with manual transmission
• 3D-printed prototype shift knob uses Ford’s OpenXC
research platform to link devices to the car via Bluetooth ,
and shares vehicle data from the on-board diagnostics port
• OpenXC provides an easy and inexpensive way to develop
connected apps or to prototype new hardware features
An important part of the total gaming experience for hardcore
video gamers is getting physical feedback through the controller as
they keep their eyes on the screen. It’s called haptic feedback. For
drivers of performance cars like Ford Mustang, feedback is just as
important to understanding how the car is behaving.
Rookie Ford engineer Zach Nelson has harnessed the power
of open-source hardware and software, 3D printing, wireless
connectivity and Microsoft Xbox 360 to bring haptic feedback
to a Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 through a manual shift knob that
vibrates at the optimal time to change gears.
“I wanted to create something that expands the car’s capabilities
and improves the experience for the driver,” said Nelson. “I decided
to use OpenXC to provide a new kind of feedback for the driver
through the shift knob.”
Customization and personalization have been part of the Mustang
experience for nearly 50 years. The earliest ads for Mustang
proclaimed it as “The Car Designed to be Designed by You!”
That spirit continues today, whether following the traditional route
of modifying the engines, suspension and body or the modern
approach to improving the driving experience through software.
Ford’s open-source OpenXC software and hardware platform
enables developers to create apps that leverage the data available
through a car’s on-board diagnostics port.
Nelson, armed with a freshly minted mechanical engineering
degree from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, joined Ford
in September 2012 through the company’s college graduate
program. His first assignment was at Ford’s Research and
Innovation Center in Dearborn, Mich., where he was introduced to
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
Nelson began by modifying a digital model of the shift knob from
a Ford Focus ST, turning it into a hollow shell with room for some
extra parts, and printing it with a MakerBot Thing-O-Matic™.
He installed an Arduino controller with a mini-USB port, LED
display, colored LED lights and the vibration motor from a Microsoft
Xbox 360 game controller.
“The vibrating knob can be installed onto the stock shift lever, and
I’ve tested it on several vehicles including Mustang and Focus ST,”
Nelson says. “I decided to have a little fun with it and installed an
LED display on top that shows the gear position and colored lights
that glow from inside at night similar to the ambient lighting in
Moving the system to different vehicles only requires tuning some
calibrations in the app to match the torque curve of the car. By
monitoring the driver’s style through speed and the throttle pedal,
the app automatically adapts its control strategy to suit what
it thinks the driver is looking for. The app can be programmed
to determine shift points for best performance, comfort or fuel
efficiency based on modes selected by the driver.
For performance cars like Mustang, the potential for customization
using OpenXC signals that there is a secure future for both tuners
and developers alike.
“OpenXC is a great platform for developing connected apps and
aftermarket upgrades, or quickly prototyping features that could
eventually be incorporated directly into the vehicle,” Nelson says.
“The basic concept of my system could be integrated directly into
the car, and used on automatic-transmission vehicles with paddle
shifters with electric power steering.”
Nelson has posted his app and designs for the knob and electronics
on the projects page of the OpenXC platform website.
About Ford Motor Company
Ford Motor Company is a global automotive and mobility
company based in Dearborn, Michigan. With about 201,000
employees and 62 plants worldwide, the company’s core
business includes designing, manufacturing, marketing and
servicing a full line of Ford cars, trucks and SUVs, as well as
Lincoln luxury vehicles. To expand its business model, Ford is
aggressively pursuing emerging opportunities with investments
in electrification, autonomy and mobility. Ford provides
financial services through Ford Motor Credit Company. For more
information regarding Ford and its products and services, please
visit www.corporate.ford.com.
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