Electric vehicles are set to become a common sight on our roads, but one potential problem needs to be addressed – their lack of engine sound. In a perfect world, of course, pedestrians would always look both ways before crossing the street, and cyclists would always shoulder-check before turning, but this isn’t a perfect world. There are also blind people to consider, who must rely on the sound of oncoming vehicles (or lack of it) to know when it’s safe to cross the road. Toyota has already announced an onboard audio alert system for the Prius, but now researchers at the University of Warwick are experimenting with sounds that could be applied to all EVs – and you could help them.

ELVIN is a little green electric van, used to patrol U Warwick’s parking lots. It has been outfitted with an audio system, programmed to make a variety of noises as it’s driven around. The research team will be asking people who see and hear ELVIN (Electric Vehicle with Interactive Noise) to tell them not only how effective the noises are as a warning, but also how annoying.

“Electric Vehicles are very quiet externally and internally, which makes them a potential low-speed safety risk to pedestrians,” said lead researcher Professor Paul Jennings. “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 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.”

The public had a chance to check out ELVIN yesterday at the Warwick campus, but if you missed it you’re still in luck. Jennings and company have set up on online interactive evaluation, that allows people worldwide to let them know what they think of the little van’s noises.

The options, we'd have to say, are a little unadventurous given the opportunity to really think outside the box that the coming era of EVs affords us, but it's bound to be a contentious topic. If you think you have the solution, we'd love to hear your thoughts.

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