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GLM, Roland team up to make electric cars noisier

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Red GLM ZZ Roadster sports car

GLM’s ZZ Roadster will feature sounds designed by synthesizer giant Roland; photo courtesy GLM

Electric cars are very quiet, which can be a safety problem for anyone with vision problems, who would not know when a car is approaching, as this blog has written. In contemplating the problem of what sounds to add to its electric ZZ Roadster, Japanese automaker GLM is partnering with the synth and musical instrument maker Roland, as Charlie Sorrel writes for Fast Company.

In a press release, Roland writes that the two companies will create a “neo-futuristic driving sound generation system” for GLM’s ZZ Roadster sports car, using Roland’s SuperNATURAL synthesizer technology. This might be the first time that musicians Herbie Hancock and Jimmy Page have been referred to in a press release about cars, Sorrel writes. (Hancock and Page are among some of the talented musicians who have used its synthesizers, Roland notes.)

Responsiveness-Based Technology

The sounds the car emits will “seamlessly change depending on real-time driving situations like acceleration, deceleration, and motor load variances on sloping roads,” writes Roland. Its technology for the ZZ Roadster is based on responsiveness, which is very important in electronically recreating subtle sounds of acoustic instruments, writes the Los Angeles-based company.

Sorrel writes:

Right now I’m imagining a kid playing with a toy car and making the sound effects as they go. And it seems like that might not be far from the actual design, because the ZZ will have ‘neo-futuristic sounds that will give sports car enthusiasts the experience of driving a space ship on the road.’

Even though some drivers have gotten used to more silent vehicles, driving sounds are still important to many drivers, notably those driving high-performance vehicles, and those who want driving to be fun and fulfilling, Roland writes. And sounds are essential to the safety of bicyclists and pedestrians, especially visually impaired pedestrians. As Sorrel notes, “if you can’t hear a car coming, you may step out in front of it.”

Long-Delayed Law

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) posted Minimum Sound Requirements for Hybrid and Electric Vehicles, as Sorrel writes. At the end of last month, the Obama administration said that after a long delay the law will be finalized in November, as David Shepardson writes for The Detroit News.

The final rule was supposed to be issued by January 3, 2014, under a 2010 law from Congress, Shepardson writes, noting that the NHTSA missed several deadlines. NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said the agency had had to do additional research after it announced the proposed rule in 2013, Shepardson writes; as a result, automakers will not have to begin meeting the requirements of the law until at least the 2018 model year. The law gives them at least 18 months to comply. The agency began studying the issue in 2007, Shepardson writes.

In speculating about what electric car sounds might or should be, Sorrel suggests “something soothing, like the musical engines that Marta Santambrogio tested in India.” As Adele Peters writes in another Fast Company article, Santambrogio suggested a “random, harmonic collection of sounds” that she sampled from Indian instruments like the tabla and the shehani (a type of flute), creating a “musical extravaganza” determined by the roads a driver takes.

In a comment to Sorrel’s article, Daniel Bullen suggests the sound he would like an electric car to emit: “Make it sound like a tie fighter or the electric cars/ships from the Jetsons!”


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