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Audi Gives Silent Electric Car Synthetic Sound 402

Posted by timothy
from the millions-to-be-made-in-downloadable-cartones dept.
itwbennett writes "Audi's electric cars are quiet, maybe too quiet, which is why Audi spent 3 years creating replicated engine noise for its electric car models. We're so conditioned to the noise of an engine revving that a driver behind the wheel of a too-quiet car may not realize how fast he's driving, and a pedestrian relying on auditory clues may be unaware of an approaching vehicle, says Ralf Kunkel, Head of Audi Acoustics." Nissan's been on this for years (as has Honda); one day, you may only get to choose which noise your car makes, rather than whether it does.
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Audi Gives Silent Electric Car Synthetic Sound

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  • by turtledawn (149719) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @04:41PM (#39664743)

    and they chose car noise. How uninspiring.

    • by nschubach (922175) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @04:44PM (#39664787) Journal

      All I want to know is if I can I turn it off? (without breaking some law...)

    • by Nidi62 (1525137) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @04:48PM (#39664849)

      and they chose car noise. How uninspiring.

      Personally, I love the sound of my V8 revving up. But I also hate how much it costs to do that :)

      • Personally, I love the sound of my V8 revving up. But I also hate how much it costs to do that :)

        I foresee a market it downloadable "engine-tunes". Make your car sound like a V8, an I4, or even a Harley.

        Personally, I'd still go for "silent", but I DID get a kick out of the roar of the engine in the Taurus that RoboCop drove.

    • by BagOBones (574735) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @04:50PM (#39664881)

      Exactly why would it need to sound like a regular car.

      Spend any time down town Vancouver and you will start to appreciate them having a little sound of some kind... Something like over 50% of the cabs in Vancouver are Toyota Prius and they sneak up on you all day long as a pedestrian.

      • Exactly why would it need to sound like a regular car.

        So people who are blind or vision impaired can hear it coming and know it's a car.

        • by KiloByte (825081)

          Then stop jaywalking?

      • Great. Now I've got this mental imagery of cars hiding behind corners and lamp posts, then tiptoeing up to people from behind.
    • by Surt (22457)

      If it doesn't sound like a car, do you know to jump out of the way?

    • by V!NCENT (1105021)

      Car needed to make noise. Car.... noise.... noise that cars make.... car noise?

      What did you expect? MP3 functionality? What about hearing Justin Bieber come by you everytime a pube drives his car past your block? -_-

  • Noise needed (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 12, 2012 @04:42PM (#39664757)

    I was just thinking, of all the things we need more in modern society, what would it be? The answer: NOISE!! Oh yeah. Its just too quiet in our cities.

  • by doston (2372830) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @04:42PM (#39664765)
    I live in downtown Seattle and sometimes the noise is a bit much. The worst are the hogs that are designed to be incredibly noisy. People need to WATCH where they're going (look both ways, morons) and LOOK at the speedometer. And no, I'm not moving to some suburb or the country. It's not a living nightmare or anything, but I hardly see any good reason, other than just supporting stupidity, to actually put work into creating noise.
    • by Denogh (2024280)

      I live in downtown Seattle and sometimes the noise is a bit much. The worst are the hogs that are designed to be incredibly noisy. People need to WATCH where they're going (look both ways, morons) and LOOK at the speedometer. And no, I'm not moving to some suburb or the country. It's not a living nightmare or anything, but I hardly see any good reason, other than just supporting stupidity, to actually put work into creating noise.

      The issue I've heard associated with this was the blind. You know, those folks who can't look both ways.

      • by doston (2372830)

        I live in downtown Seattle and sometimes the noise is a bit much. The worst are the hogs that are designed to be incredibly noisy. People need to WATCH where they're going (look both ways, morons) and LOOK at the speedometer. And no, I'm not moving to some suburb or the country. It's not a living nightmare or anything, but I hardly see any good reason, other than just supporting stupidity, to actually put work into creating noise.

        The issue I've heard associated with this was the blind. You know, those folks who can't look both ways.

        I'm surprised they don't get hit by more bikes then. Maybe the driver should look. Come to think of it, this whole article is stupid anyway. They're already simulating sound...I mean, maybe not with a literal synthesizer, but my G35 would apparently be almost silent, but for the crap they've done with the exhaust. So, not sure this is entirely a new thing. I know, maybe they could implant things in blind people's ears that alert them of an oncoming silent car...like a super loud and startling BEEP?

        • I know, maybe they could implant things in blind people's ears that alert them of an oncoming silent car...like a super loud and startling BEEP?

          Yea, that's waaaay more reasonable than attaching a loudspeaker to the car...

          As if being blind wasn't bad enough...

    • by pz (113803) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @04:56PM (#39665021) Journal

      Two words: blind people.

      Or more elaborately, everyone who can hear uses auditory cues to navigate in addition to other cues. Electric cars are highly unusual in that they make much less noise than their internal combustion engine counterparts. Until silent electric cars are commonplace enough that the public is aware that the normal sensitivity of audition may be insufficient to navigate as a pedestrian, adding sound would seem to be a good idea on the whole. Of course, the flip side is that people who are spending their time buried in their hand-held devices and don't look up when crossing the road are more likely to be weeded from the gene pool by silent cars, and some might consider that a plus. Getting to the point above, though, there are many people -- millions in the US alone -- with low vision or blindnes for whom automobile sounds are critical in warning of impending danger. Adding a modest sound to quiet electric cars definitely seems a good idea for them.

      But if you really want to cut down on urban noise pollution, as your post implies, address trucks, buses, and construction crews. Non-electric cars just aren't that loud and motorcycles aren't that frequent. Try to talk on a mobile phone as a truck or bus drives past, though: it's impossible.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Two words: blind people.

        100% bullshit.

        You don't hear a car approaching because of the engine, you hear the tires on the road more than anything. Modern cars make VERY little noise from the engine, and what little they do produce is directed BEHIND it.

        This isn't an issue that blind people are worried about. This is an issue that politicians are trying to use to gain personal publicity by pretending THEY care about blind people...ironically more than blind people care about themselves.

        In reality, bicycles are a far greater danger

      • by Chelloveck (14643) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @05:55PM (#39666027) Homepage

        Until silent electric cars are commonplace enough that the public is aware that the normal sensitivity of audition may be insufficient to navigate as a pedestrian, adding sound would seem to be a good idea on the whole.

        No, it wouldn't seem that way. Why? Because if you add artificial noise people will never become aware of it. It just perpetuates the problem.

        Adding noise is exactly the wrong answer. Quiet cars are a nice step forward for those of us who can hear. How about instead we come up with some protocol for a blind person to signal his intent to cross the street? Say, hold out your arm and point to the other side for 10 seconds before crossing. Then train drivers to actually stop for that signal? That would have other benefits as well. Sighted people could use the same signal, making it easier for them to cross busy streets too. And it would protect the blind from those oh-so-silent bicyclists whizzing down the street. (Or maybe bicyclists should adopt some sort of artificial vroom-vroom noise just like cars?)

        Simple, free, and peaceful. What more could you want?

  • by Jedi Alec (258881) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @04:49PM (#39664875)

    Finally men can spend their entire lives going "Vroom! Vroom!" behind the wheel, instead of being forced to stop at the tender age of 11.

  • by newcastlejon (1483695) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @04:50PM (#39664887)

    The Jetsons.

    If I ever get to choose my own sound, it will be this. [youtube.com]

    • How much would Warner Bros. Animation, owner of copyright in The Jetsons after it bought Hanna-Barbera, charge to license that signature sound?
  • While the idea of adding fake noise to silent operation still seems silly to me, i was caught by surprise by a hybrid in a parking lot. I hate to be that guy, but there was enough other noise I didn't hear it rolling and it spooked me. Should cars be heard for safety reasons?
  • by Cazekiel (1417893) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @04:52PM (#39664933)

    If I got one of these, I'd just it in the driver's seat with the windows open, screeching "NYYYYYAAA! NE-YEEHHH! REEEEEEEEEEEE-OOOH! RRRRR! RRRR-CK!".

  • by million_monkeys (2480792) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @04:55PM (#39664999)
    Am I the only one who thinks it shouldn't take 3 years to figure out how to make a car produce engine noises? There are plenty of video games out there that manage to pull it off and I doubt any of them spent even 3 months on designing engine noises. Granted they didn't have to work out all the hardware involved, but even that doesn't seem like it should take years.
    • Am I the only one who thinks it shouldn't take 3 years to figure out how to make a car produce engine noises?

      No, no you are not. When I read that, I thought, really? 3 years? Uh, lemme see... loudspeaker + audio source + the tachometer = programmable sound that varies with engine speed. Took me all of 10 seconds.

      Sometimes I think letting engineers have all the fun when it comes to design is part of the problem; they tend to forget Occam's Razor. Then again, with all the drive-by-wire stuff they're mucking about with these days, maybe I shouldn't be surprised the auto engineers forgot that, at it's base, a car is

      • by tlhIngan (30335) <slashdot@worfMOSCOW.net minus city> on Thursday April 12, 2012 @05:57PM (#39666067)

        Am I the only one who thinks it shouldn't take 3 years to figure out how to make a car produce engine noises?

        No, no you are not. When I read that, I thought, really? 3 years? Uh, lemme see... loudspeaker + audio source + the tachometer = programmable sound that varies with engine speed. Took me all of 10 seconds.
         

        So what sounds do you play (a normal engine whirr or a deep-throated big-block?)? How do you scale that sound with RPMs? How do you ensure the sound you're playing won't be irritating to everyone after a period of time?

        Even more important - how do you handle interior vs. exterior sounds? Car makers do NOT make the whole cabin soundproof - they actually do funnel some engine sound into the cabin. Do you play an "idling" sound? Do you consider the inside and outside to be separate sounds? Do you simulate gears (and if so, at what points? and do you base it on speed or RPMs or how the driver is pressing down?). And how does it sound in the rain/snow/sand/dirt?

        It's the whole UI thing - that takes far longer to do than the technical steps. Little things like where you put the speaker can have a huge effect - it tane turn a great sound into a muffled annoying rumble. Or the mixing of existing car noise (motor/controller whine, wind noise) may turn the noise into something horrible.

        Hell, there are apps for your phone that play back engine noiess, but the whole acoustic package has to be considered.

        Sometimes I think letting engineers have all the fun when it comes to design is part of the problem; they tend to forget Occam's Razor. Then again, with all the drive-by-wire stuff they're mucking about with these days, maybe I shouldn't be surprised the auto engineers forgot that, at it's base, a car is a mechanical device.

        Drive by wire has several advantages, including reliability, economy (cars are "twist'n'go" these days - the computer does all the necessary adjustments to ensure it can start in the harshest conditions with a simple twist of the key - no accellerator flooring/choke adjusting/etc), emissions, etc. Plus information sharing - the navigation system can do dead reckoning based on wheel motion, speed, the steering wheel position, etc when it loses GPS signal. Nevermind all the safety features that people love, and cruise control.

    • by iONiUM (530420) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @05:24PM (#39665507) Homepage Journal

      Rest assured, from the technical side they could do it very quickly, as you outlined.

      The problem is more than likely in market research. Bringing people in, asking them to listen to 50 varieties of car noises and judging them, to find just the "right" one that is pleasant, audible, but not overpowering, and most importantly better than any competitors.

      Just like software development for consumers, often it's the UX/UI that is very time consuming and nit-picky, not the actual software itself.

      • by dgatwood (11270) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @05:56PM (#39666045) Journal

        The overpriced luxury manufacturer brings people in and asks them to listen to 50 varieties of car noise to find the best one.

        The smart carmaker uses the sound of a moped by default and then sells hundreds of expansion packs with samples of different car engines so that the customers can choose their own favorites.

        The really smart carmaker rents the expansion packs with a monthly fee like ringtones.

  • by Grayhand (2610049) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @04:56PM (#39665019)
    Look at it this way, some one was just killed by a bicycle and the blind deal with those everyday and they are just as quiet. 99% of the people benefiting from the sound will in fact be people that can't be bothered to look first. I've had gasoline running cars that were silent enough I didn't hear them approach. There does seem to be a touch of insanity making regulations that require noise pollution. Whether it's hydrogen or battery electric motor driven vehicles are likely the future so are we now setting a standard that we are committing to a future of gasoline engine sounding cars from here on out? To me it seems a little like demanding cars make the sound of horse hooves a 100 years ago so people were more comfortable with the transition.
  • by Githaron (2462596) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @04:57PM (#39665025)
    ... so the rest of us do not have to pay for the system if we decide to buy the car.
  • Bubba Rub? (Score:5, Funny)

    by imag0 (605684) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @05:00PM (#39665073) Homepage

    Bubba Rub was a visionary

    www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nnzw_i4YmKk [youtube.com]

    Reporter: Can you tell me about the whistles?
    Bubb Rubb: The whistles go WOO-- You wanna WOO WOO--
    Reporter: Some neighbors are saying it’s “way too loud.”
    Bubb Rubb: That’s only in the mowrning. He’s supposed to be up cooking breakfast or something, so it’s like an alarm clock!

  • by Quiet_Desperation (858215) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @05:00PM (#39665083)

    Either a TARDIS arriving sound or warp engine.

    BTW, there's a gauge on most cars that tell you how fast it's going. Just tossin that out there FYI.

  • by Picass0 (147474) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @05:03PM (#39665123) Homepage Journal

    *Be sure to get your parent's permission first. $4.00 licensing fee per month.

  • All I could think of when I heard it is the Tron Lightcycle sound. A little high frequency filter and it's the same thing.
  • Problem solved!!
  • Back in the old days, we just used baseball cards and clothespins to give our bikes sound effects.

  • Two Different Issues (Score:5, Informative)

    by sunderland56 (621843) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @05:13PM (#39665295)
    There are two different issues being merged into one here:
    • Vehicle noise outside the car - to warn pedestrians/other motorists/etc. of the car's presence;
    • Vehicle noise inside the car - so the driver has a perception of how fast they are driving.

    A speaker making 'vroom vroom' noises outside the car does nothing for the driver - most modern Audi-class cars are so quiet inside you can barely hear an internal combustion engine. Some cars (even loud high-performance ones) already artifically add engine noise to the stereo system [cnet.com] so the driver can gauge their speed.

    • by mark-t (151149)

      Noise outside the car is not required. The sound of tires on the road are already quite loud when the car is moving at anything higher than parking lot speeds.

      And at low velocities, given a new conventional engine and a decent muffler, you might not head a conventional car approaching anyways... so there is no real difference, unless you are going to also propose that they outlaw good mufflers.

      Noise inside the car is not required. An inexperienced driver is going to have to glance at a speedometer to

    • by geekoid (135745)

      I'll take quite with a speedometer, thank you.
      And the wind noise will also be an indicators.
      Another indicator will be when everything in front of you starts to turn blue~

  • by Karmashock (2415832) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @05:13PM (#39665303)

    I want my car silent.

    As to blind people crossing the road. That's just going to be a new challenge. I don't see why everyone in society has to have engine noise in otherwise silent cars just so blind people can tell cars are coming.

  • by mark-t (151149) <`markt' `at' `lynx.bc.ca'> on Thursday April 12, 2012 @05:17PM (#39665387) Journal

    Oh noes... the car is too quiet! It could sneak up on somebody before they hear it!!!!

    Give me a break.

    Seriously... this is just such a colossally stupid idea that it had to be dreamed up by lawyers.

    In some newer conventional engine cars, you have to strain to listen for the engine, when its on a low speed. Are they going to now require that mufflers not cut out more than certain amount of sound?

    And at higher speeds, you're going to hear the sound of the tires on the road LONG before you hear the sound of engine, unless, again, the engine is an older one or the muffler isn't doing it's job correctly.

    Are they going to also require that bicycles have such noisemakers installed? What about motorized wheelchairs? Both can cause extremely serious injury to people when moving at high velocities.

    This idea is just so incredibly stupid that it gives me a headache just trying to imagine the mentality of people who thought it was a good notion.

  • Burns gas and ozone for no reason.

  • The bus traveling music that accompanies Peter in the Family Guy episode where he wishes for his own theme music.

    At around 0:50 in this poorly captured clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lN9GAApDpsw [youtube.com]

    Or, perhaps the bus theme music in Earthbound: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bVv5CuKgAzg [youtube.com]
  • Wasn't this in the above novella (or something like it)?

    I vaguely remember reading some story years ago about how they made cars for the stupid people that actually went really slowly, but had huge tail-fins & made really impressive growly engine noises, so as to fool the drivers into thinking they were going a lot faster than they were.

  • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @05:28PM (#39665565)
    Noise pollution is one of the biggest banes of living in urban areas, and to say that automobiles contribute significantly to noise pollution is a major understatement.

    Sure, keep them quiet, and a few more people will die every year. Mostly stupid people.

    I say it's worth it, for reducing the noise and proven stress levels they cause, which everybody else has to deal with.
  • What about the people who live next to a road? Or people walking along a separated pavement (sidewalk to the Americans) next to a road? Quieter cars benefit them all - in fact the reason we have maximum noise restrictions on cars at all is to reduce noise pollution to others.

    Why should we require noise pollution?

    Is this going to be some attempt to legislate that urban areas have as much vehicle noise in future, as they do today and no less?

    • Actually, I wouldn't be surprised if it's one of those, "In order to avoid lawsuits."

      We have electric cars and hybrid cars and cars with really quiet internal combustion engines. And yet, somehow, the number of people getting run over hasn't appreciably increased. But it could happen. And if it did, it would be, "Oh, if only the car had made noise, that person would be alive today! It's the automaker's fault! Let's sue them for billions of dollars!"

  • by Sperbels (1008585) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @05:32PM (#39665641)
    As a bicyclist, I sometimes get the shit scared out of me when I'm riding on the road and a really quiet car passes. I can get so startled that I swerve. Maybe cars could have two horns. The regular one that busts people's ear drums, and a small beeper type horn that you could use to alert pedestrians and cyclists to your presence.
  • Since somebody beat me to the Jetson's car sound, I suggest the Monty Python clippety-clop coconut sound. As an extra bonus, a horse whinny for a braking sound.

  • Liars (Score:4, Insightful)

    by The Raven (30575) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @05:59PM (#39666093) Homepage

    The article is a lie. Audi didn't do this for safety... they did it because engine noises produce an emotional response. We are conditioned to tie the power of the vehicle to the sound it makes. Audi has a reputation for fast cars, and a silent car does not provide the same emotional feedback, thus reducing the perceived value of the vehicle to the consumer. This is particularly true of the all-important test drive... even if you can disable the sound later, by default they want you to feel the horsepower in your gut when you hit that pedal for the first time.

  • by 0111 1110 (518466) on Thursday April 12, 2012 @07:46PM (#39667439)

    I don't drive a hybrid but at idle the engine is pretty quiet. I use a hypermiling technique called "pulse and glide" where you accelerate up to speed and then let the car glide for a while in neutral.

    During the glide the tire noise is much louder than the engine. I have to wonder if differences between tire noise is more dangerous than differences between ICE and electric motors. Depending on the tires I could easily imagine an ICE car being quieter than a hybrid. Some tires are very quiet.

  • by pbjones (315127) on Friday April 13, 2012 @02:56AM (#39670247)

    I have a Prius (2nd hand) and with a CVT, the engine is usually running at about the same rev range, but the speed varies a lot. So I need a sound based on speed and not 'engine' RPM. (for those people who don't understand the Pruis setup, a petrol engine provides the running power a lot of the time while the electric motors take up the slack and lessen the strain. The transmission varies the gear ratio without the usual 'steps' and so the engine can be held at optimum rpm while the CVT accelerates the car)

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