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You are here: > News > Sept. 28, 2010

Choosing Vanity Tones for Electric Vehicles

Suggestions for researchers at the University of Warwick, who are experimenting with sounds that could eventually be applied to all EVs to apprize pedestrians of oncoming electric vehicles, which are too quiet. The artificial sounds would assist with info about size, direction, speed, accelerating, decelerating.

by Sterling D. Allan
Pure Energy Systems News
Copyright © 2010

The University of Warwick's Elvin EV shows what different sounds are like in an actual vehicle, approaching, departing, etc.


One of the good and bad things about electric vehicles is how quiet they are. From a vantage point of noise pollution, quiet is good. When it comes to pedestrians, quiet can be a bad thing.

The idea of "car tones" is not a new one.  

Researchers at the University of Warwick are experimenting with sounds that they hope could eventually be applied to all EVs to apprize pedestrians of oncoming electric vehicles, which are too quiet.  The artificial sounds would assist with info about size, direction, speed, accelerating, decelerating.

You can help them pick the sounds through their online interactive evaluation.

Impressed with this idea, I clicked through to the site, but was underwhelmed with what I saw there. 

They have a great idea, but haven't taken it far enough.  It seems like they are only focused on the local community, when this can and should be a global initiative, involving everyone in a fun way, with a productive end result: standardization of electric vehicle sounds.

After writing them an email, I realized that I had essentially written a story that I could post here at PESN as an open letter to the company.  So here is my email:

You have a great idea but haven't taken it far enough.

You need to make this initiative have a website all its own, not piggybacked on the university website. For credibility's sake, you could link to the university website from the dedicated website. 

The problem with having it on the same site is that the "contact" become muddy. Who do I write to about this, and makes suggestions, comments, etc.?

Also, it's hard to take this seriously as an initiative that could spearhead setting a standard for vehicles noises for all electric vehicles of all shapes and sizes worldwide if you just have one little survey about a van piggybacked on a UK university website.

The home page should offer multiple surveys about multiple vehicle types.

There should be a choice of sounds that people could rank more quickly.

People should be able to vote on different sounds to indicate different vehicle types.

People should be able to submit sounds. You should have a contest for the winning sounds.

In addition to sound types, you should also get input and suggestions about sound volume, and change of sound as vehicles approach, accelerate, slow down.

I would also recommend that over time you do volume diminishing in steps so that as the world goes electronic the volume can gradually be turned down.

You definitely would not want a vehicle sound that resembles present vehicles at half the volume, because people would tend to interpret that as being twice the distance. The EV sound needs to be clearly distinguishable from the IC engine sounds. And, you should consider getting a trademark on the sound so that people immediately recognize the sound as being new and approved, and know where to gauge it on the spectrum of distance, speed, increase/decrease in speed, etc. If the artificial sound merely mimics existing vehicle sounds (I'm not suggesting this), then the volume and other features would need to be matched, or you could increase people's confusion rather than decrease it when the vehicle doesn't correspond to the way they are used to them responding. And it could even throw them off to the true sound when they need to pay heed to it, thinking its artificial or intended as humor, when in fact a vehicle is careening at them and screeching to a halt.

You should point this out at the opening of your page so that people are thinking about new sounds with this important point in mind.

Your site needs a comments feature so people can make comments and others can see those comments. And you should respond to the good comments and let the project evolve per the best comments submitted. The product that emerges could greatly pass your expectations

You should think of some clever ways to market this to bring people to the site and vote on "car ring tones", but pointing out the need for uniformity among vehicle types. "How should muscle cars sound?" "How should courier trucks sound?" I think there is room for some humor while not impeding the accuracy that is so important to preserve life.

Your present landing page looks juvenile to me, and doesn't entice me, as a professional, to want to participating, thinking its some kind of kid project.

You could make Facebook widgets that let people vote on the sound they think their own car should make, with a link to your website where people can go to choose their own sound. That could be part of a person's profile. You could coin the term "Car Tones".

And you might even consider having two sounds concurrent. One indicates the car type, the other is the person's personal "car tone". So if I was standing on the street, I would know when my wife is driving up.

You might also have a contest for the best name for the initiative. I think "Elvin" sounds too juvenile.

Also, in order for something like this to become universal (e.g. 4-door passenger cars sound like this), the regulatory bodies of the world will need to be in agreement.  That will be no small task.  Your site should include tips, action items, and progress reports on this front.

The down-side to something like this is that it could also be used for surveillance for an already way out of control Big Brother government (true worldwide).  There could even be inaudible sounds that the human ear doesn't detect but which special scanners could detect, which nefarious persons (found often in government) could encode into the vehicle to make it easily trackable, against the customer's knowledge or permission.

So while the general idea is a good one, and could be expanded with public involvement, care needs to be taken in the implementation to prevent this from being yet one other way that the Orwellian types increase their ability to snoop and control the population.

# # #

Your Input on Car Tones

Related Stories

  • Scientists testing driving noises for EVs - Researchers at the University of Warwick are experimenting with sounds that could eventually be applied to all EVs to apprize pedestrians of oncoming electric vehicles, which are too quiet.  The artificial sounds would assist with info about size, direction, speed, accelerating, decelerating. (GizMag; Sept. 23, 2010)
  • Hybrid Cars May Include Fake Vroom for Safety - Safety experts, worried that hybrids pose a threat if pedestrians, children and others can’t hear them approaching, want automakers to supply some digitally enhanced vroom. (NY Times; Oct. 13, 2010)
  • Coming Soon: Car Tones for Your Electric Vehicle - Using some of the same technology that creates downloadable, personalized ring-tones for your cell phone, teams of sound effects engineers are reportedly working on drive-tones for electric vehicles by BMW, Fisker, and Nissan. What might these drive-tones, or “car-tones” sound like? (AllCarsElectric; October 17, 2009)

See also

Page composed by Sterling D. Allan Sept. 28, 2010
Last updated October 07, 2010


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