How to Give Silent EVs Intelligent Sound

By Bill Moore

Posted: 02 Sep 2010

Electric cars are not silent apparitions. They do make noise, but in a sound saturated world of suburban lawn mowers, police and rescue sirens, growling truck engines, blaring car horns, or just the whisper of wind in the trees, they can be virtually invisible, acoustically speaking. Especially if you are blind and count on audible cues from engine exhaust notes to be alerted to an approaching car, very quiet electric-drive vehicles pose a potentially dangerous threat. But even those with full sight can be caught unawares as a Prius in EV-mode glides past in a parking lot.

That's why governments, carmakers and entrepreneurs have been investigating the pros and cons of giving cars like the Prius, the Volt, and the LEAF artificial sounds to provide vital audio cues for pedestrians and cyclists, seeing impaired or not, that will prevent them from accidentally stepping into the path of an oncoming EV.

Nissan has talked about giving the LEAF sci-fi-like sound effects, others have talked about establishing a generic, standards-based sound, while still others have mused about the electric car sound equivalent of ring tones, customized for each vehicle. An aftermarket kit being offered in Japan to fit to the latest generation Toyota Prius.

The Danish start-up ECTunes, based in Horsens, has come with its own approach, which is demonstrated in the video clip below. According to the press release they sent me today, the "brand-new technology... brings intelligent sound to electric and hybrid vehicles. "

States the release…

ECTunes has developed a new and innovative technology, which provides electric and hybrid vehicles with sound far beyond the common engine sounds, songs or other previously seen features. The new technology is unique in the way that sound is composed and designed to obviate the need for variation. When the electric vehicle moves forward, the sound is only audible in front of the vehicle – as a warning to vulnerable road users that a vehicle is approaching and at the same time minimizing unnecessary noise on the sidewalk. The sound emitted from the vehicle depends on the direction, speed and acceleration of the vehicle.
According to Thomas Gadegaard with ECTunes, the venture is being funded by Danish Investment Fond Energi Horsens. The test vehicle being used in the video is an electric version of the Citroen C1, presumably developed by The Electric Car Corporation (ECC), which started out in England, but moved its production facility to Denmark.

Exactly what is the business model isn't clear. Presumably they hope to license it to car makers or perhaps offer it as a kit to the vehicle aftermarket. It is certainly a promising approach to the problem.

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