Audi designing the "e-tron sound" for upcoming electric supercar
The last couple years a small controversy has dogged electric cars development. Some claim electric cars are too silent, and that the silence presents a danger to pedestrians, bicyclists, the blind, and others. As a result of these claims of dangerously quiet electric cars, efforts are underway to add unnecessary noise to electric cars as if that will make them safe for pedestrians and bicyclists. Audi posted a video today on YouTube talking about their efforts to develop the correct sound for the Audi R8 e-tron, and their work with an honest-to-goodness composer to develop the Audi sound. Audi describes this project as both an effort to produce enough sound for pedestrian safety, and an effort to brand Audi electric cars with a sound befitting that company's heritage.
The silent electric car faux controversy began in (or before) 2009 when activists for the Blind raised concerns about hybrid and electric cars, claiming these new cars presented a danger to the Blind. While electric cars tend to be quieter than gasoline cars, cars in general are becoming quieter every year because of better engineering. The continuing carnage of pedestrian and bicyclist deaths or injury by noisy vehicles undermines the argument that it is quiet cars that are dangerous. And what of the potential for electric cars to resolve the noise pollution that is plaguing our cities? The din of noise degrades the quality of life of city dwellers, and is thought to negatively impact the emotional state of those living with the noise. Back in 2009 NoiseOFF described lobbying efforts by the National Federation of the Blind as "racing to develop a solution to a non-existent safety problem" and "astroturfing the issue of pedestrian safety". The concerns were a bit over-hyped, and based on questionable reasoning, but most electric vehicle activists did not think this rose to the level of necessitating a fight against the calls for electric cars to make more noise. Nevertheless, the Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2010 requires the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to ensure that electric and hybrid car manufacturers add noises meant to alert pedestrians and the blind.
Electric vehicles are not exactly silent, they're simply quieter than gasoline cars. The remaining sound is made by tires, the controller, the electric motor, and some of the mechanical bits on the car. It's quite possible to add speakers to an electric car to artificially make it emit any desired sounds. One could even imagine a market of car sounds much like some go overboard in finding the right ring tone for their cellphone. The question is, what (if any) sound should an electric car make.