The sound of digital

March 2019

I was interested to read the other day that a new EU rule has just come into force at the start of July 2019 as part of a 2014 directive. It mandates that all new models of electric cars sold in the European Union (and all existing models by July 2021) must now make artificial noise under certain conditions. Acoustic Vehicle Alert Systems (aka, AVAS) will need to be installed in hybrid and electric cars to make a sound while traveling under 12 mph, or while reversing.

Due to the lack of a traditional combustion engine electric vehicles can be much quieter than various other vehicles on our roads today. This lack of sound poses potential concern for those who are blind or partially sighted, or even people who are distracted when crossing the road (for example by focusing too intently on their smartphone).

Designed to address these perceived fears of quiet electric vehicles, the new laws will require vehicles to make some kind of noise (not prescribed to be any particular sound) that must rise and fall in pitch to signal whether the vehicle is accelerating or decelerating. The US government is also mandating that, by 2020, hybrid and fully electric cars emit sounds at low speeds.

The expected volume level (fifty-six decibels) isn't all that loud. It's equivalent to the sound of an electric toothbrush or an air conditioning unit running. But it's  interesting to consider that acoustics engineers and car manufacturers are having to create sounds that will define our future streets the point when electric vehicles have fully replaced current alternatives.

As you can imagine every electric vehicle manufacturer is developing a competing sound. The American rock band Linkin Park is even suggested to be helping Mercedes-AMG come up with just the right sound for its electric performance car.

What should electric vehicles sound like?

Here are some examples that have been made public so far:

The Jaguar I-Pace apparently takes inspiration from its Formula E racecar and has even been dubbed a 'race car howl' by one designer. Inevitably others have heard something more akin to a spaceship or flying saucer.

Nissan released a concept video back in 2017 for "Canto," the future sound of Nissan's electrified vehicles. "Canto" is derived from Latin for "I sing." The sound varies in tone and pitch depending on whether the vehicle is accelerating, decelerating or backing up.

BMW has approach film score composer Hans Zimmer to make driving sounds for its electric BMW Vision M Next concept car. The sounds aim to be "gradually morphing sound textures" which "create harmony between the driver and the electrically driven vehicle."

What I find interesting about all this is that car manufacturers are also now thinking about personalisation. In some ways this will draw parallels with personalisation in our other devices such as the mobile phone ringtone (or lack of) that we choose or the alert tones we hear when we use our laptops. Electric vehicles give the opportunity to customise the sound of both the internal and external driving audio experience.

The likes of Harman are working on EV sound synthesis to represent and then acoustically present the sounds of different car engines and types. Letting buyers pick from a variety of external electric vehicle sounds could give dealerships another way to add value to a car on sale or offer multiple selectable noises to fit the way a person feels on a given day, downloadable from a store.

It's another way to deliver a superior digital, connected experience for the consumer based on small moments that matter in their purchasing lifecycle and of course their experience of owning the vehicle itself...and more than that it's keeping us safe on the streets as well.

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Leadent Digital helps organisations to achieve transformational change. We love developing apps that transform customer experience and help you deliver a more frictionless service experience across all of your contact points and channels. Why not get in touch to tell us more about your current priorities?
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