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Fake car noise: it's a horse's head not a shutter-click

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Richard Cable | 11:04 UK time, Monday, 11 May 2009

Moves are afoot in both the US and the European Union to introduce a 'minimum level of sound' for electric cars. The problem is that they're just too quiet compared to the snarling and grumbling of the internal combustion variety.

horse226x226.jpgThe difficulties of judging the speed and direction of travel of electric vehicles makes them a potential menace to both blind and inattentive people (not that the two groups should be confused). A recent study carried out by Dr Lawrence Rosenblum at the University of California Riverside found that you could be up to 65% closer to a hybrid before working out in which direction it was travelling.

So what should electric cars sound like? Dr Rosenblum is firm: 'People want cars to sound like cars', by which we assume he means they should go 'vroom'. But manufacturers are looking at everything from amplifying the natural nasal whine of the electric car to throbbing V8 soundalikes to engine noise you can download like a ringtone.

Such 'aids to transition' from one dominant technology to another either die out pretty rapidly - think fake horses' heads mounted on early cars - or become universally and instantaneously accepted, like the nifty mechanical shutter-click inherited by the digital camera.

The problem with the ersatz car 'vroom' idea, is that it seems destined to be a horse's head rather than a shutter-click. The shutter-click is sumptuous, evocative, functional and crucially brief. Like elevator music, ersatz car 'vroom' will be just another form of irritating, ever-present noise pollution, made all the more infuriating by the knowledge that someone has put it there deliberately and could just as easily switch it off.


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