A loud roaring engine noise is part of the fun for many car drivers. Too bad that electric vehicles have silent engines. But industry experts have a solution for all fans of eco-friendly yet noisy motors: downloadable engine sounds for electric cars.
Just like downloading ringtones on mobile phones, electric vehicle owners could soon be able to download artificial noises for their new car and choose different sounds on a daily basis, suggests Peter Stoker, head of Special Vehicle Engineering at Vauxhall. ”One day you might want to have a nice V12, the next you might want to have the Starship Enterprise. This sort of ability to slightly modify the car in how it appears or how it sounds, I think that has got some great potential going forward.”
While the idea of downloadable and exchangeable engine sounds is new, engineers at different car brands have been working on putting the noise back into soundless electric cars for a while now. Almost inaudible electric vehicles reduce sound pollution but they pose a threat to pedestrians, particularly to those who may be blind, as they can’t hear them approaching. Artificial engine noise will also benefit cyclists and distracted pedestrians.
Toyota designed a noise that sounds like something straight out of a futuristic action movie. It is only emitted at a speed below 15 mph and uses a combination of high- and low-pitched sounds to help make it audible over city background noise. The sound also rises and falls in pitch with the vehicle speed to give pedestrians a sense of whether the approaching car is accelerating or decelerating.
Peugeot Citroen is playing with different sounds. One of the artificial noises is a mixture of several sounds including the noise tyres make on the road. Another one is a futuristic tinkling that reminds of a science-fiction movie from the 1960s.
“We have to find a sound which is ok with safety requirements, but also we want to have a beautiful sound,” says Vincent Roussarie, Head of Sound Research at the French automobile brand.
Digital sound technology presents limitless choices to makers of electric vehicles. Yet, car manufacturers have to keep an eye on safety. “It can’t be the sound of a tram,” says Rolf Frech, an engineer at Porsche. Non-mechanical sounds like a bird noise is also out of question.
Nissan proposed music as an engine sound, but testers found it sounded like an ice cream van.
Since the artificial noise is not limited to traditional petrol motor sounds, Stoker suggested that car manufacturers could soon have their own unique branded sounds for their vehicles that could ignite as much brand awareness as their logos and badges.
“You can make them all sound the same but then if you look forward 20 or 30 years to an electric city of cars going round and the traffic noise would be very different to what we hear today with lots of beeping. Each individual car manufacturer could well develop a brand sound so pedestrians would know ‘oh, that’s a so-and-so coming towards me’,” said Stoker.
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