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Audi to make e-tron safer using sci-fi sound effects

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November 12, 2010

Audi's e-tron Detroit concept, at the 2010 Detroit Auto Show

Audi's e-tron Detroit concept, at the 2010 Detroit Auto Show

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As electric cars take to the streets, the people at Audi have been confronted with what they see as a new problem to solve: their cars are too quiet. Acoustic technicians have been enlisted to find the new sound of Audi, and it won't be a roaring V8 or hissing turbo – the inspiration might just come from the sci-fi world.

Audi's flagship electric e-tron series is virtually silent at low speeds. This lack of noise could pose a risk to the vision impaired, cyclists and others road users.

Organizations for the blind worldwide are advocating that quiet cars be given a sound. As the world follows countries such as the U.S and Japan in making laws governing ultra quiet electric cars, Audi has entered the sound lab with a few ideas up its sleeve. The mission – to come up with a new sound that defines the Audi automotive brand.

Audi's e-tron Quattro at the IAA 2009 auto show

“We speak of quiet cars when an electric car is driven at a speed between 0 to 25km/h (15.5mph),” explains Dr. Ralf Kunkel, Head of Acoustics at Audi. “Up to this speed electric cars are virtually silent as they glide through the streets. Noise from the rolling of the tires and from the slipstream comes to the forefront above this speed, at which point an electric car is no longer significantly more quiet than a conventional vehicle. The acousticians are currently hard at work on the sound design of the Audi e-tron. It is not just a matter of safety, but also a question of how the Audi of the future should sound.”

While not giving away too much, Kunkel has hinted that a sci-fi influence may be at work: “The sounds used for space ships in films are reminiscent of car sounds, yet are also very different, making this a rather interesting approach. An Audi will not sound like an airplane with jet engines or a space ship from a science fiction film any time soon, but the sound will be new and unusual. The Audi RSQ from the Hollywood film I, Robot gives an indication of how an Audi might sound in the future.”

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8 Comments

I have one of the last Cadillac Eldorados and it is virtually silent. What's wrong with silence?

Actually I have heard these electric cars and they are anything but silent, they generally have a harsh whistle or whine that is very unpleasant. Maybe the sound comes from the electronic control rather than the motor, but still, to my ears at least, electric cars have a long way to go to become as silent as my old Cadillac.

Grunchy
12th November, 2010 @ 10:56 am PST

Here's an idea. Let drivers choose --or even create-- their own sound.

Sooner or later, a state's DOT or DMV is going to regulate a specific sound, or a specific frequency/intensity profile. Why not blaze the trail and offer a synthesizer that combines acceptable noise generators (1/f, shot, white, pink, etc) with filters, equalizers, and autocorrelators and let drivers get creative? Seed the car with a few stock sounds to choose from, of course, for those who just want to drive.

bughunter
12th November, 2010 @ 11:05 am PST

Can't they just use that thing that plugs into your car lighter and connects with the speakers to emulate the sound?! I've seen a video of it on Gizmag's YouTube channel.

Nitrozzy7
13th November, 2010 @ 03:28 pm PST

Silly and wasteful idea. Noise is just another form of pollution. We are supposed to be moving toward a cleaner less polluted world where the sounds of nature can be heard instead of machines. Intelligent people know to look for cars while crossing the street. Intelligent bikers know to ride in the bike lane. We have had street signs and signals for many decades. People just need to stop ignoring them.

Charles
15th November, 2010 @ 08:29 am PST

@ Charles: How exactly is a blind person supposed to look for cars in the roadway?! Stick his cane out in the street and see if someone hits it?? The sound that they would emit would be loud enough to be audible but not enough to cause noise pollution.

Patrick Weddell
15th November, 2010 @ 11:44 am PST

Good call Patrick, good call. I think some people miss the point.

Adam Nightingale
15th November, 2010 @ 03:24 pm PST

Use sounds from "The Jetsons". :)

Facebook User
15th November, 2010 @ 05:34 pm PST

@Patrick Adam The US blind population is about 3%. I agree with Charles. It is silly to think we can't have quiet roads near our houses. I personally look forward to less noise. PLUS, the majority of noise from a car is from wind and tires (road noise) and not the engine, and personal experience with my neighbors, the radio. Adding sound is truly not needed! Also I live in a community with some blind folks and talking crossing signs were added. They know how to navigate on the sidewalk and cross when safe. It isn't like they are walking in the street and need to hear a car coming.

randya
1st December, 2010 @ 08:49 am PST
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