Researchers at the University of Warwick are experimenting with sounds to alert pedestrians to the presence of electric vehicles - and are even taking inspiration from early science fiction films.
The scientists are deploying an electric van called ELVIN, which emits a variety of different sounds aimed at warning pedestrians and other road users that it is nearby.
People who hear ELVIN’s sounds will be asked to give their opinions on a range of issues including whether they are suitable as a warning or whether they are just annoying.
One of the sounds is even evocative of early science fiction movies, raising the prospect of a surge in UFO reports when ELVIN is nearby.
Professor Paul Jennings, the lead researcher on the project at the university's Warwick Manufacturing Group, said: “Electric vehicles are very quiet externally and internally, which makes them a potential low-speed safety risk to pedestrians.
“Sound not only alerts people to the presence and direction of a vehicle, it also indicates the type of vehicle – for instance a bus – and whether it is stopping or accelerating.
“The lack of sound can also make the vehicles unattractive to customers who expect, and even enjoy, aural feedback while driving.”
“The obvious solution is to artificially add appropriate sounds, but which sounds?
“At the same time, we don’t wish to lose the potential benefits of reduced annoyance from traffic noise.”
WMG is carrying out the research with vehicle sound experts NoViSim of Hertfordshire and Danish company EC Tunes.
Roger Williams, technical director of NoViSim, said: “The fundamental questions are, which sounds should be used for which vehicle, and how should they vary according to what those vehicles are doing.”
As word spreads about Elvin, the team intends that different community groups, representing for instance people who have limited sight, will come and listen to him and give their views.
The University of Warwick has already built up considerable experience in researching and advising on how to enhance the sound quality experience for customers of prestige vehicles in an age when technology is actually making almost every aspect of such cars quieter than ever.
NoViSim has developed some of the leading software tools for designing, evaluating and delivering appropriate sounds for cars.
The research fits well with the University of Warwick’s wish to expand its own campus electric vehicle fleet and a desire to learn as much from their use as possible, including which sounds are most suitable.