Sound News: Blade Runner made real

May 31st, 2011
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In our July newsletter we talked about the potential dangers for pedestrians and cyclists arising from electric cars being too quiet. It’s clear that there these cars need added sound, but what sound? Fans of the film Blade Runner will be excited by Nissan’s recent announcement.

The Nissan Leaf electric car set for release next year will emit a “beautiful and futuristic” noise similar to the sound of the flying cars, or ‘spinners’, that purr around the smoky 2019 dystopian landscape in Ridley Scott’s classic sci-fi thriller. The sound will cut off at about 12mph, after which tyre noise is apparently loud enough to warn pedestrians of the car’s presence.

“We decided that if we’re going to do this, if we have to make sound, then we’re going to make it beautiful and futuristic,” Toshiyuki Tabata, Nissan’s noise and vibration expert, told Bloomberg. “We wanted something a bit different, something closer to the world of art.” Tabata has spent most of his career trying to make the combustion engine quieter, but has been consulting Japanese film composers with the ironic task of now making cars louder.

The sci-fi result has sparked discussion about the usage of law-abiding car sound as a unique customisation feature. We have long predicted that electric car owners will be able to download custom car sounds the same way we currently download ringtones, turning a problem for the electric car manufacturers into a possible revenue stream. Tokyo-based Datasystem Co is already selling a device that emits 16 different sounds including a cat’s meow, a cartoon-like “boing” and a human voice saying “Excuse me.”

We at TSA are looking forward to seeing how the safety need, paired with great branding and revenue opportunities drives (no pun intended) the automotive giants to explore product sound in a new and much freer way.

Next steps are recommendations from the Japanese Transportation Ministry, a final report on crash data involving hybrids and pedestrians from the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and official regulation that needs to pass through both US and Japanese Congress. The outcome is surely inevitable: the current throb of petrol and diesel engines being replaced by a varied menagerie of sound. What will be the Nokiatune of the electric car age? And will we have to put up with yoof music thumping outside the car as well as inside? It’s going to be a fascinating journey, and one that will raise the profile of product sound over the coming years.

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