The Future Soundscape of Electric Vehicles

ev sound standards

Electric vehicles are environmentally friendly, technologically stunning, and almost disturbingly quiet. There are plenty of them on the road today and their sleek, stylish exterior is hard to miss. One thing that is hard to notice, is the noises they make. Electric cars are extremely inaudible, with accelerating being one of the only audibly identifiable alerts available. For many, silence is a major selling point when purchasing a new vehicle. This allows drivers to hear their surroundings and quickly identify issues on their vehicle, such as a squeaky wiper or tire problems. However, a tranquil vehicle isn’t necessarily for everyone. So, what about those not on board for the silent ride?

Blind pedestrians in Canada have been protesting noiseless cars and asking for better identifiers for all pedestrians. Canada has listened, and proceedings are taking place to change the layout of the EV industry. In 2021, Canada proposed a requirement that hybrid and electric cars have some sort of identifying alerts when moving at low speeds. This regulation is scheduled to take effect in 2023 and allows manufacturers to pick their own sounds. This can be an issue on its own accord as there won’t be a universal alert for the hard-of-seeing to audibly identify. Canadian National Institute for the Blind regulatory affairs manager Lui Greco stated that with traditional combustion engines, “You can hear the car go; whether it’s stopped moving, slowly accelerating.” Without those cues, he said, many blind or partially sighted people will be afraid to go out.

You may wonder about what sounds current EV’s deploy, such as the high-pitched alert when accelerating/reversing, and how they will play a role in making more identifiable cues going forward. Tesla currently uses a rocket type notification when in reverse, BMW has been working with Interstellar composer Hans Zimmer, and Nissan has a low level tone for the Leaf. These companies are ahead of the game because they voluntarily added alerts to their vehicles.

Other manufacturers will join the race soon to see who has the most distinguishable electric vehicle. Yuri Suzuki is a design consultant for Pentagram, a company that is aiming to design new signals for cars to aid with safety and usability. He is trying to create a relationship with cars and humans by creating “shared language” through sounds. He uses roars similar to combustion engine revs, providing pedestrians and drivers with an audible representation of speed. His designs also include in-car notes, like powering on, turn signals or horn honking, that use AI technology to adapt to different times of the day. For example, in the morning, there’s a higher pitch tone and a sunnier energy to the car, which get progressively lower in pitch as the day goes on. The AI technology will also be used in daily routines, and the alerts will vary based on what activity you are doing that day (going to work, running errands, road trip, etc.). These designs are still in the prototype phase, and Suzuki looks to share his findings with the EV community going forward.

Despite the current quiet nature of EV’s, a loud change is incoming and could impact our days on the road sooner rather than later. Will these new cues represent how we view vehicles in the future? Similar to the powerful roar of a 1960s muscle car, or the enticing purr of a supercar, we may hear these new cars and start to correlate them with specific models. What do you think a 2030 car will sound like?

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