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Friday, January 27, 2023

Ford patents an automated manual transmission with fingertip control

In December 2018, Ford submitted patent application to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for a Manual Transmission with Electric Clutch. The USPTO published the patent last November, Muscle Cars & Trucks discovered the paperwork this month. What we’re talking about is another version of the automated manual transmission, a technical milestone the automotive industry passed more than 70 years ago. What’s more interesting is the bit of MC&T supposition that comes with the patent discovery, that this transmission could find its way into the next-generation S650-series Ford Mustang

Mechanically speaking, the basics are all here, including a set of gears to manually shift through, tweaked with the potential use of clever sensors in the shift knob. Without a clutch pedal, the powertrain would understand when to shift by noting when the driver has gripped the shifter and started to move it, operating like the everyday manual transmission in everyday use. However, according to the patent, electronic control of what might be “a dry friction clutch” can be fine-tuned based on how the driver applies his fingers or pressure to the shift knob. The patent says the shift knob shell “is flexible, at least in some areas, allowing the driver to slightly deform, i.e., crush, the knob.” In certain applications, the “magnitude of squeeze applied by the driver” could mimic working a clutch pedal, with harder squeezes decoupling the clutch further, softer ones doing the opposite. Another type of delicate, fingertip-controlled clutch operation would let the driver activate neutral by using a button or another kind of squeeze on the knob, instead of needing to shift to neutral. 

The patent claims the point of this innovation is to give “many people, especially driving enthusiasts … the increased driver interaction” of a manual, without “the negative attributes” of doing a calf raise every time a new gear is needed. This makes the Ford patent much like the Kia Intelligent Manual Transmission (IMT) that debuted in the European Kia Rio in 2020, which was developed for the same reason. The Kia IMT is designed for mild hybrids, using the electric bits of the powertrain to turn the engine on and off throughout a wider range of operation, possible since the car can control the clutch on its own.

Ford’s idea is suited for longitudinally-mounted transmissions in rear- and all-wheel-drive cars. The 2024 Mustang will offer hybrid powertrains, it’s possible Ford had this in mind, too. The Bronco might also work. As we always say, though, it’s a long way from patent to production, so this could come and go no further than the Internet.

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