Scientists testing driving noises for EVs


September 23, 2010

ELVIN the EV is equipped with a variety of driving noises

ELVIN the EV is equipped with a variety of driving noises

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Electric vehicles are set to become a common sight on our roads, but one potential problem needs to be addressed – their lack of engine sound. In a perfect world, of course, pedestrians would always look both ways before crossing the street, and cyclists would always shoulder-check before turning, but this isn’t a perfect world. There are also blind people to consider, who must rely on the sound of oncoming vehicles (or lack of it) to know when it’s safe to cross the road. Toyota has already announced an onboard audio alert system for the Prius, but now researchers at the University of Warwick are experimenting with sounds that could be applied to all EVs – and you could help them.

ELVIN is a little green electric van, used to patrol U Warwick’s parking lots. It has been outfitted with an audio system, programmed to make a variety of noises as it’s driven around. The research team will be asking people who see and hear ELVIN (Electric Vehicle with Interactive Noise) to tell them not only how effective the noises are as a warning, but also how annoying.

“Electric Vehicles are very quiet externally and internally, which makes them a potential low-speed safety risk to pedestrians,” said lead researcher Professor Paul Jennings. “Sound not only alerts people to the presence and direction of a vehicle, it also indicates the type of vehicle – for instance a bus – and whether it is stopping or accelerating.”

“The obvious solution is to artificially add appropriate sounds, but which sounds? At the same time, we don’t wish to lose the potential benefits of reduced annoyance from traffic noise.”

The public had a chance to check out ELVIN yesterday at the Warwick campus, but if you missed it you’re still in luck. Jennings and company have set up on online interactive evaluation, that allows people worldwide to let them know what they think of the little van’s noises.

The options, we'd have to say, are a little unadventurous given the opportunity to really think outside the box that the coming era of EVs affords us, but it's bound to be a contentious topic. If you think you have the solution, we'd love to hear your thoughts.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

Oh my. Of all the problems to spend research time on. I\'m sorry to be so cynical. Worrying about people being run over by EVs is like worrying about Canadian spy networks.


I want the \"Cow Bell\" option.

Mr Stiffy

IDIOT RESEARCH. Trains..... must have a man walking in front of it with a red flag! Remember that!

So now we have to create artificial noise pollution because some idiot can think of 10 reasons how they can get run over. Atattch a smog machine so we can have the stink as well. It\'s all to much for the human unit. Anyroad Gizma the best little email you can get.


The simple answer is to just force the cooling fans to be on when the vehicle is traveling at less than 15mph. The fans are most of the noise you hear on a modern IC-engined vehicle at low speed, anyway.

Adding a noisemaker (which can break, and will almost certainly be \"modified\") is a terrible idea.


In the long run, whether vehicles are gas or electric, a better solution would be to generate targeted sound (for example, with a beam-forming speaker array) directed at people in or moving toward the space that the vehicle is about to occupy. For example, suppose the vehicle is approaching a crosswalk and is too close to stop before the crosswalk. Using on-board sensing (lidar, vision, etc.) the vehicle detects a person stepping into the crosswalk, and predicts a collision. Reacting in a few milliseconds, it generates a sonic \"slap\" focused right on the person\'s head. Sound, traveling at ~750mph, reaches its target quickly, giving the person a few hundred extra milliseconds to jump out of the way.


As a regular commuter cyclist, I DO NOT rely on vehicle sounds. Most vehicles emit most sound from the rear and my ears are aimed to the front. I don\'t hear cars until after they pass me. In the winter, I have a hat down over my ears and hear even less. I just use a mirror to see what\'s coming. I participated in the evaluation, but I too am offended that EVs need to make artificial noise. That reduces the efficiency, for what gain?

Robert Schell

I like B. It sounds like the sci-fi vehicle I\'ve always dreamed of driving. I think the sound should be something between a standard combustion engine (for familiarity) and an electric hum or whir. Basically an amplified and throatier version of the sound the motors make naturally.

Simply put, it should sound like the sexiest version of the future imaginable.

Adam Frisoli

It would be inspiring to read more comments from people that understand the very real hazard silent vehicles present. While I don\'t doubt that some of those commenting are very \'tuned\' to their environment and can\'t imagine not noticing an approaching vehicle, there are many who do rely on hearing, along with other senses. I drive a prius and try to be particularly vigilant about pedestrians and animals. There have been several occassions when my silent approach has been unnoticed and an accident narrowly averted.


Several observations: In response to those who ridicule the idea of the need for some kind of noise, I am both an electric vehicle advocate and the \"victim\" of an electric sneak attack. The main place the noise is needed is at low speeds, before the tires make enough noise to be noticed. I was bumped by an EV at an electric vehicle demonstration after I stepped out in front of it in the parking lot. I was barely bumped but had the driver not stopped right away I might have been seriously hurt. My mistake, but there were no sound cues. Any noise might have helped, so I support the idea of sound generators.

Also, Robert mentioned that he does not rely on sound while riding. I am also a cyclist, and for right or wrong, use my hearing as well as mirrors to sense traffic to the rear. At highway speeds, a car makes enough tire noise to be heard quite easily from hundreds of meters away. This would apply to electrics as well. Ears should have no problem sensing sounds to the rear.


Stick a baseball card in the spokes! Maybe people should just pay attention to their surroundings. With this logic, every electric car or motorcycle, bicycle, tricycle, person, dog, cat and squirrel should also have a noise generator permanently installed. They have a large number of electric cars and utility vehicles on the campus where I work. Other than the rate at which they\'re driven, I have not had any problem with their low noise level.


This must be why deaf and hearing impaired folks keep getting run over.

It\'s funny - with all the real problems in the world, this imaginary one gets attention.


Totally interesting article! I\'ve almost been run over when walking to my car in parking lots by cars backing up on the far side of SUVs except I heard them in time. Thanks!

BTW, the National Federation of the Blind (USA) recommends the manufactorers add the sound of the noises we already recognize and all of us already can use to judge distance and speed. Coming up with faniciful NEW sounds %u2013 because we can and it%u2019s funner for the inventors %u2013 is not helpful for the required purpose of knowing that the sound means a vehicle is coming and identifies what speed and route e-vehicles are doing when they are coming at us but not in view. That makes TOTAL sense to me.

Lorraine Home

Whatever happened to the quaint concept that a vehicle driver should yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian or a cyclist? This issue of artificial sounds is simply a case of political correctness run amok. I woulld like an electronic train horn sound for my Prius, however. If it didn\'t get the octogenarians out of MY passing lane, it would at the very least temporrily cure their constipation.

I have to say that after checking out the evaluation they are a pretty uninspiring bunch of sounds.

How about all EV motorcycles sound like a Ducati, all cars like a Ferrari and all trucks like a Kenworth.

Combine this with Mr Jared\'s \"Sonic Slap\" idea and we may be getting somewhere.

Why does irony sound so good in my head yet read so bad on the page?

Jaroslav Boublik

I\'ve been looking forward to a time when the noise polution introduced with mechanised transport will be reduced to an acceptable level and now we are being told that we are to be subjected to even more annoying electronic noises, joining the bleeping of pedestrian crossings, reversing lorries etc.

There was never a need for audible approach signals on electric milk floats.



The real problem is not that electric vehicles are too quiet, but that there is too much background noise, aka noise pollution. Electric vehicles are another step in the direction of reducing noise pollution. Ironic that some feel the need to make them louder, thus adding to the already incredible din of noise surrounding us. I must admit they make a valid point however, and I do feel we must do what we can to ensure the safety of every citizen. Could there be another solution that would not add to the noise pollution problem ?

Dave Brumley

Let Darwins law be unmolested!!! People who can or will not be responsible for themselves are clogging up our streets enough, if they can\'t LOOK where they are going who needs them. Maybe some of those people who are incessantly obssessedwith their cell phones will be taken care of. In the meantime maybe the rest of us will be spared some of that noise pollution.

Facebook User

Jeez guys, lighten up on the sound problem. Here\'s another solution which will make you look to the sky for the noise. If interested, check this sound solution out:



Like your moog Jetwax!!

silent vehicles will make life very interesting for pedestrians {:-)


If I was to buy an electric car with fake noise, the first thing I would do is disable the noise.

Greg Dove

CliffG, yours is possibly the most inane comment here. \"Deaf and hearing impaired folks\" aren\'t run over because they can look around and see cars coming. Blind pedestrians already lack that sense, so if you take away any audio cue, they have no warnings at all.

Unlike you, I actually see blind people in my city. I\'ve seen how they stop and wait at intersections for the light to change. How do they know when it does? Obviously from listening to the sounds of traffic.


Sorry Gadgeteer, I guess my sarcasm was not obvious enough. Let me clarify. The deaf and hearing impaired do not get run over even though they are unable to hear any on-coming vehicles. Artificial sounds on EVs will not help them. IMHO, artificial sounds are not the solution for anyone. Pedestrians should look before stepping into a roadway and drivers should be driving slow enough to avoid hitting them if they do.


CliffG, your sarcasm is completely misplaced. What does this have to do with hearing-impaired people? It\'s for the sight-impaired. If not sounds, what else would you propose for warning them? Taste? Smell?



I personally don\'t understand why people will put noise in their EVs. As a specialist on EVs, when I get to talk about EVs with people, one of the most common discussions is the sound of EVs. People start to tell me that there are going to be some sort of %u201Csound packs%u201D for electric cars. The owner could for example choose between the sound of a Porsche or a Mustang%u2026.

Read this for more:

Thank you


Olmo Echeverri
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