Researchers strive to give electric cars sound
What should a silent car sound like? And should motorists be able to choose their own electric car sound, much like selecting a phone's ringtone? These are just some of the challenges driving a group of researchers in northern Sweden, tasked to come up with a warning sound for electric cars.
Under EU legislation, from July 2019 all new electric vehicles produced for the European market will be required to be fitted with a warning sound which activates when the cars are driven at speeds of up to 20kmh, (just over 12mph).
The directive is designed to prevent accidents involving electric vehicles which tend to be quieter than conventionally powered vehicles at lower speeds.
The research team is attempting to define what the new requirements will mean in practical terms for all road users.
"We're exposing people to different sorts of environments," explains studio director and project manager at the Interactive Institute, Anna Sirkka to Swedish Radio.
Right now, the Renault Zoe is virtually the only electric car which currently has some form of warning sound fitted to it - most electric cars are silent - a rather spacey added engine sound.
The Interactive Institute is set to begin studio tests of a range of potential sounds in the coming months, with a prototype due for launch at the end of the year, the aim of which will be to gather road users' reactions.
"What we're trying to do is to get an idea of how these devices would sound at, for example, pedestrian crossings, in traffic jams, by bus stops and in any situation where there are large numbers of unprotected road users," says Sirkka.
The project is primarily financed by the Swedish Energy Agency, and also involves the National Board of Housing, Building and Planning, the Swedish Transport Agency, truck maker Scania, and car maker Volvo, as well as National Electric Vehicle Sweden.
The EU directive does not prevent drivers from switching off warning tones on electric cars, neither does it apply to electric bikes.
Sirkka warns, however, that the urban environment of the future is set to get even noisier.
"It could be like smartphones and their ringtones today. It's not entirely unlikely that things are going to get even noisier," she says.