What does an electric vehicle look like when it goes from 0 to 60, when it signals a turn, when it is switched off for the night? EV motors have fewer parts and therefore are incredibly quiet, presenting safety concerns for drivers who recognize speed by sound and pedestrians who cannot hear an approaching vehicle.
In 2019, regulators in Europe and the United States has started requiring electric vehicles to have warning sounds, but they left it up to the automakers to choose these sounds. Many seized the new legislation as an opportunity not only to create a trademark sound, but also to generate some hype by bringing in famous musicians to compose the sound of an electric motor. Hans Zimmer created the Blade runner– Esque sound concept for the BMW i4 electric sedan, and, strangely, Linkin Park creates EV sounds for BMW.
Sound designer Yuri Suzuki, partner of design consultancy Pentagram, recently conducted a research project on the crucial role of electric car sound on safety, fun, communication and brand recognition of a user, from which he developed a range of car sounds. Suzuki says that even though some automakers have chosen beautiful and interesting car sound designs, chasing after celebrities is not the way to go when designing the sound behind serious machines.
“We have to really carefully design for the psychological effects on a human,” Suzuki told TechCrunch. “It is about the relationship between the human being and the machine itself.
Suzuki claims that intelligent sound design can help soften the difference between human and car by providing shared language. Based on the polls it conducted, Suzuki proposed two new skeuomorphic electric motor sounds as well as adaptive sounds that reflect the time of day and the location of the player.
The sounds of its engine are reminiscent of the rpm of the internal combustion engine, providing drivers and pedestrians with a recognizable indication of increasing and decreasing speed. The sounds are placed at different heights: one quite low, like a spaceship taking off; the other a little higher, like a hovercraft rising vertically. Audi, Ford and Jaguar Land Rover have also chosen to make futuristic copies of gasoline engines for some of their new electric vehicles.
Suzuki’s sound design also includes on-board sounds, like power on, turn signals or horn, which use AI to adapt to the time of day. In the morning there is a higher tone and sunnier energy in the sounds, the tone of which gradually decreases as the day progresses.
To make the sounds more customizable, Suzuki says it uses machine learning to help fit the individual’s schedule so that the sound can adapt to the type of activity the user is doing, from commuting to work at the races passing by a walk. Video game-like sounds are activated each time the driver arrives at their destination.
Many manufacturers allow the driver to choose what sounds their vehicle will make, but Suzuki doesn’t think that’s the best idea because people will likely choose what they think is coolest, not necessarily what is most useful. Not to mention the strange cacophony of city noises if everyone could choose their own sounds. It would be like when people started choosing their own cell phone ringtones, but on a larger and more anxiety-provoking scale.
“We suggest a preset sound that gradually changes as it adapts to your lifestyle and activity,” he said. “Our AI can slowly adjust its sound to the behavior of the driver.”
Suzuki’s AI-based car sounds are designed not to be repetitive. So if you take a long road trip, rather than constantly listening to the same sound, Suzuki Sounds are capable of creating a real-time generation of tailor-made sounds, a task almost impossible for a human to do. He says the constantly progressing and changing sounds use the same data as the original engine sound, but they can stretch for hours without repeating themselves.
Pentagram has yet to produce a commercial application for Suzuki sounds, as it is more interested in sharing its research with the EV and sound design communities, as well as finding the right automaker partner to develop further. this project.
“There aren’t any solid, solid guidelines yet, so that’s something we’re interested in,” said Suzuki. “The first step for us is to share the kinds of things we can do with AI and sound design. “