Audi to fit e-tron electric cars with I, Robot-style sound generators

Audi's hired a crack team of acousticians, whose task it is to dream up noises that alert pedestrians to the whereabouts of its forthcoming e-tron electric car.

Rory Reid
2 min read

Audi's has been beavering away on an artificial engine noise for its forthcoming e-tron electric sports car. The company's hired a crack team of acousticians, whose task it is to dream up noises that alert pedestrians to the whereabouts of the car, which cruises almost silently at low speeds.

Artificial sound generators are capable of recreating almost any noise to accompany a car's acceleration, but according to Audi, not all sounds are suitable. It says "the rustling of leaves, the twittering of birds or shrill tones such as those used by the Snow Cat extreme terrain vehicles" aren't viable options. Forget acousticians, we could have given them that advice for free.

Replicating the sound of an ordinary combustion engine isn't a viable option either. Christian Schuller, Head of Brand Development and Corporate Identity, says "we want to underscore that an electric or hybrid Audi is an innovative product. We also want to make our Vorsprung durch Technik audible in the era of electric mobility."

The company's audiologists seem most keen on the sounds used for space ships in science fiction films, but even these aren't quite ideal.  Dr. Ralf Kunkel, Head of Acoustics at AUDI AG, says they'll draw inspiration from such movies, but maintains the sound will be "new and unusual." He adds, "The Audi RSQ from the 2004 Hollywood film 'I, Robot', starring Will Smith, gives an indication of how an Audi might sound in the future.

Audi's work in creating artificial electric vehicle sounds should go some way to pacifying the Guid Dogs for the Blind Association, who recently called for electric cars to be fitted with sound generators.

The charity says blind and partially sighted people are reliant on audible cues to help them judge when it's safe to cross a road. It also says that sounds shouldn't simply be relayed when vehicles are in motion, but also when a car is stationary at pedestrian crossings.

The e-tron is scheduled for a late 2012 launch. To get an idea of the sorts of noises an electric car can make, check out the video we shot with the Smart Brabus ED.