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Lotus Sound Synthesis Technology  (Source:
Device makes the Prius sound like a Lamborghini

Electric vehicles are hot right now and for the most part people see them as great for the environment and a welcome addition to the roads around the country. However, there is a down side to the electric vehicle -- other than a short range -- and that is that they make virtually no noise.

To many drivers, a silent car is a good thing and if electric cars take over the roads in the decades to come, the thought of traffic jam in near silence is much better than the loud idling and sound of combustion we get today. However, for those who are blind and for bicyclists, electric cars can be dangerous.

The Toyota Prius is a good example; when it travels at low speeds and runs on battery power without the combustion engine, it is virtually silent. Without being able to hear an electric car, the visually impaired could step out in front of the vehicle without knowing it was even there.

Congress thinks that the low noise levels of electric cars could be such of a hazard that a bill was introduced to require a minimum sound level on all cars produced for America.

If the bill is made into law, Lotus stands to make a bundle on new technology that it has been demonstrating to address the specific issue of noise -- or lack thereof -- on electric and hybrid vehicles. The technology is called Lotus Sound Synthesis and in essence it is nothing more than a sound system to make sounds pedestrians can hear. Lotus connected the system to a stock Toyota Prius to demonstrate the technology.

The system consists of a 300-watt speaker, a throttle position sensor, amplifier, and synthesis controller. The system would produce engine sounds that would rise and fall -- just like the sounds of a combustion engine -- during acceleration. Lotus says that when the combustion engine kicks in, the speaker system automatically turns off. The speaker itself is a waterproof unit mounted near the cars radiator and according to Lotus the driver hears virtually no sound. The sound could reportedly be made to mimic various engines.

Wired quotes Mike Kimberly, CEO of Group Lotus saying, "We hope that legislators introduce minimum noise requirements for vehicles to encourage the adoption of technologies, such as ours, which will ultimately increase pedestrian safety."

The Toyota Prius isn’t the only car that could benefit from Lotus' system. Honda is bringing the Insight back in 2010 and Tesla has its Roadster on the streets now as well.

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By ChronoReverse on 8/7/2008 2:18:04 PM , Rating: 3
I live in Vancouver and there are tons of Priuses here from the taxis to random people driving them.

I can hear them just fine. They're quiet but not silent in any sense of the word.

How people who are blind and presumably have better hearing than sighted people like me "can't hear" the Prius is beyond me.

By Brandon Hill on 8/7/2008 2:20:32 PM , Rating: 2
I most definitely can hear Priuses. I was in downtown Raleigh last weekend and a Prius crawled up to a stop sign. I could hear the whine of the electric motor, and as it took off, I could hear tire noise.

Someone who is blind typically has more acute hearing than the rest of us, so I'm sure they must be able to pickup on even more stuff emanating from the Prius.

By FITCamaro on 8/7/2008 2:53:01 PM , Rating: 2
Yeah that's what I'm saying. Even a car without any engine noise is still going to make noise as the tires roll over the ground and the suspension adjusts. There's plenty of cars on the road that are nearly silent even without an electric engine.

By FITCamaro on 8/7/2008 2:54:07 PM , Rating: 3
And perhaps the blind can be used to detect smug levels since their other 4 senses are enhanced from loosing their sight.

By gmyx on 8/7/2008 2:56:21 PM , Rating: 4
Someone who is blind typically has more acute hearing than the rest of us, so I'm sure they must be able to pickup on even more stuff emanating from the Prius.

That is a common misconception, believe me. I work with many blind individuals. The average visually impaired has average hearing. Add to that the sounds of other vehicles and people and you could easily miss a Prius or even think it's an electric wheelchair (just as dangerous at the speeds they go!)

By masher2 on 8/7/2008 3:03:26 PM , Rating: 5
If a blind person is roaming aimlessly about streets, depending on nothing but their sense of hearing to keep them safe, they're eventually going to get hit anyway.

Adding more noise pollution isn't the answer. How about a handheld technology that allows the blind to sense oncoming cars whether or not they're making noise?

By gmyx on 8/7/2008 3:22:33 PM , Rating: 2
Don't get me wrong, I agree that we don't need extra noise out there. A big part of navigating for a visually impaired individual is 'seeing' the environment with their cane and / or dog (If they choose that have one) and listening to you environment.

There are devices that help navigate but are based off of GPS. The cars would be better suited to have small transmitters that these devices can detect and tell them to stop.

By FITCamaro on 8/7/2008 3:30:28 PM , Rating: 4
People hardly stop for ambulances anymore. What makes you think they'll stop to some alert in their car saying a blind person is nearby?

By elpresidente2075 on 8/7/2008 3:47:53 PM , Rating: 4
I believe it is the blind person who would be told to stop in that example. Personally I find that to be a great solution ideally, but infeasible for many reasons, cost first and foremost.

By gmyx on 8/7/2008 7:31:53 PM , Rating: 2
I believe it is the blind person who would be told to stop in that example.

That is exactly what I meant. Really, the technology already exists, all that would be needed is a boosted RFID and the GPS guiders ( to work together. Granted the trekker and other similar products are quite expensive (2500$C if memory server me right), they do work fairly well. You still need to be aware of your environment, but it would help to have a more interactive environment, not just cars.

By SilthDraeth on 8/8/2008 2:52:35 PM , Rating: 2
by FITCamaro on August 7, 2008 at 3:30 PM People hardly stop for ambulances anymore. What makes you think they'll stop to some alert in their car saying a blind person is nearby?

I saw this a ton in Georgia. Once I saw several vehicles pull out in front of an Ambulance that was waiting to turn at an intersection, the people where military or contractors trying to get onto the Air Force base before the signal changed.

It sickened me.

By Motamid on 8/8/2008 11:23:53 PM , Rating: 3
Because they want to use their regenerative breaking of course :)

By NullSubroutine on 8/8/2008 1:28:14 AM , Rating: 3
Simple, add a devise to all cars or only 'silent ones' that emit a radio frequency that is picked up by a device that blind people can purchase for a very low cost. All it does is make a noise that gets louder as a vehicle gets closer and quieter it gets further away. Simple, cheap, and not creating any noise pollution.

By GaryJohnson on 8/10/2008 12:07:33 AM , Rating: 2
Imagine if we could get everyone to add a position transmitter to their car. It could revolutionize traffic monitoring, let alone help the visually impaired.

By Murloc on 8/10/2008 5:54:51 AM , Rating: 2
but how can you hear where the car is if you have a radio transmitter?
If it's a crossing the blind will hear all the time beep beep but he won't know where the car is.

By NullSubroutine on 8/10/2008 10:29:19 AM , Rating: 2
I think there are receivers that are sophisticated enough to detect what direction a signal is coming from. Hell, the transmitter could do that for it.

By blaster5k on 8/7/2008 3:33:06 PM , Rating: 5
Agreed. I've been looking forward to the day when traffic noise outside can barely be heard. That's the way it should be.

The sound levels around highways and major roads are usually loud enough to cause permanent hearing damage as is. I don't see why we wouldn't want to reduce them. The needs of those with disabilities can be met in other ways.

By lightfoot on 8/7/2008 6:23:43 PM , Rating: 2
Most highway noise is caused by the tires of cars against the asphalt, not the engines of the cars. There are a few exceptions but they are rare.

I believe the danger is at low speeds in pedestrian heavy areas. A speaker can't compete with the sound of rubber slapping pavement at 60+ MPH.

By ChronoReverse on 8/7/2008 6:24:53 PM , Rating: 2
At 60MPH, you shouldn't be crossing the motorway haphazardly even with eyes that work

By lightfoot on 8/7/2008 6:32:43 PM , Rating: 2
No doubt, I was just replying to the previous comment that stated:
The sound levels around highways and major roads are usually loud enough to cause permanent hearing damage as is. I don't see why we wouldn't want to reduce them. The needs of those with disabilities can be met in other ways.

By SergeantGardner on 8/11/2008 1:31:03 AM , Rating: 2
This is meant for speeds at which the engine is not running, meaning electric only. I doubt that includes 60+. I fully agree that this is a rather useless technology that would not be worth cost/annoyance, but I would like to see a Prius driving down the road with a ferrari engine sound blasting out of a 300W speaker. Would make me want one...

By TheDoc9 on 8/7/2008 4:12:22 PM , Rating: 5
We cant use a smart idea like that Masher, think of how much money Lotus wouldn't make.

By TSS on 8/7/2008 6:26:03 PM , Rating: 5
aside from the projects already underway for the blind to see again, why do anything at all?

ask yourself this: how many blind people get hit by a prius every year, and how many people who can see/hear/feel/smell/taste + optional 6th sense get hit by a prius every year?

but this whole situation boils down to just 1 thing: very, very bored lawmakers.

By William Gaatjes on 8/8/2008 8:11:15 AM , Rating: 2
If an electric car makes half the noise of a modern car it is silent for us and stil very noticable for blind people. Most blind people i know of beat any visual ok person when it comes to locating the origin of a sound.

How much sound does a normal good condition car make and what is the minumum sound level an electric car should make according to the bill ? I am interested.

I once read about a project of making a sonar system for blind people. In time this sonar for blind people will be technologically evolved enough to notice cars or any moving object and inform the person using it. I think that is a better solution then a car tracker. Because you also need a bike tracker. An electric wheelchair tracker. A jogging person tracker. Etcetera...

By PrinceGaz on 8/7/2008 5:24:45 PM , Rating: 5
On the contrary, blind people do have better hearing. To quote from a reliable source:

Being blind, you have developed other senses to compensate.

Prerequisite: Permanently blind for at least three months

Benefit: You gain +4 to all Listen checks, and the ability to take 10 on any Listen check, regardless of condition. Listen is considered a class skill for you. You also gain the feat Blind-Fight.

The +4 to Listen checks combined with the option to "take a 10" on the check pretty much assures a blind person will be able to hear an electric car fine. A non-blind person crossing a road who didn't see a car approaching could easily fail to hear it if they made a bad roll (they cannot "take a 10").

Whilst I'm glad I am sighted, the advantage blind people gain to their hearing is significant.

By LordanSS on 8/7/2008 6:56:04 PM , Rating: 2
Blind people have improved tactile senses, and usually a better spatial memory regarding known environs.

Studies have demonstrated how the brain adapts when a person becomes sight-impaired. Brain regions that usually process "sight" information are converted, and end up processing tactile information instead. In a sense, said person can "see" with their hands.

As for hearing, sight-impaired people are prone to the same problems an average person is: time. As time passes, and people age, gradual hearing loss is not uncommon.

Still... this doesn't mean electric cars need to have a boombox tucked in it just to make noises for people walking around. Sight-impaired people that also suffer from other handicaps should not roam about unsupervised, as they are a danger not only to themselves, but also other people around them. From a human escort, to a guide-dog, they need the assistance.

By Hiawa23 on 8/8/2008 10:38:57 AM , Rating: 2
I understand what the article is saying but why would any owner want the Prius to sound like anything else. I drive an 06 Mitsu Lancer Ralliart 2.4l & you want to talk about the engine being loud, it's loud, even with the amp & subs going, & I would love for it to be quiet like the electric cars. I think people just need to look befor they step. That's one of the benefits of the vehicles, why remove that?

By Moohbear on 8/7/2008 2:25:11 PM , Rating: 3
I think they're targeting the morons walking around with headphones blasting as loud as they can, dumbasses crossing without looking both sides of the street and the sort.
Not sure society should take any step to actively shield them from harm they bring to themselves.
Stupidity should never be an acceptable excuse.

By Polynikes on 8/7/2008 2:29:48 PM , Rating: 2
Unfortunately it often is.

By mmntech on 8/7/2008 2:37:56 PM , Rating: 2
Turning it up to 11. lol If they just bought some decent headphones instead of those crappy iPod earbuds.

I thought this was funny. They've had these devices out for a while for RC cars and planes so they'd sound like they had a gas engine. I guess the Prius really is like a toy now.

By Flunk on 8/7/2008 2:36:01 PM , Rating: 2
Quieter is a feature, not a problem. And it's not as if they are silent, even if the motor didn't make any noise at all.

It's impossible to have a car that is silent because of wind resistance and the contact of rubber against asphalt. All of that should be perfectly audible even if the engine is silent.

This is just another case of ultra-pc stupidity, the answer to a problem that never existed.

By Some1ne on 8/7/2008 3:35:13 PM , Rating: 3
They're definitely not silent, but they are much quieter than most other vehicles. Hearing one under ideal conditions is not a problem, but it's much easier for the sound of a Prius to be drowned out by background noise than it is for most other vehicles. For example, if you go and stand by a quiet intersection that is lightly trafficked, of course you'll have no problem hearing the Pruis come and go. However, if you go and try the same thing at a busy intersection inside of a large city, where there is background noise from all the non-hybrid vehicles, and other pedestrians talking to each other, and so on, it can be virtually impossible to audibly detect a Prius. I walk to/from work every day, and there have been several occasions where I wasn't able to hear a Prius approaching (a couple times at intersections, and once when one was backing out of a parking space), and only noticed it once I saw that it was moving. And I wasn't listening to headphones or anything else, the small amount of noise that the Prius does make was just drowned out by the ambient background sounds.

So the issue isn't that these cars are "silent", it's that they are so quiet that they are very easily drowned out by background noise. It's not that you'll never hear one, but there are definitely times when you won't, especially in areas with lots of background noise. I think it's a legitimate concern, as even if 9 times out of 10 the blind person hears the Prius, what about the other 1?

By ChronoReverse on 8/7/2008 3:44:20 PM , Rating: 4
Why on earth would you step blind onto a busy intersection without more confirmation than simply hearing?

When I'm at city cruising in my Matrix, the engine is very quiet as well. Someone who's listening for it in traffic wouldn't be able to discern it either.

By Some1ne on 8/7/2008 5:09:25 PM , Rating: 2
I wouldn't, because I'm not blind. But a blind person might. Have you never seen one walking around? They value their independence, and can actually be quite effective at getting themselves around, even in busy/heavily trafficked areas. And they pretty much have to step blind into the intersection, relying on auditory cues to know when it's safe.

By ChronoReverse on 8/7/2008 5:42:41 PM , Rating: 2
Auditory cues that aren't reliable even with non-(hybrid/electric) cars. And that's being generous.

That is to say, if a normal small car can't really be heard over the din of busy traffic, what difference would it make that an electric/hybrid car is quieter?

By lightfoot on 8/7/2008 6:28:34 PM , Rating: 4
Clearly every car must be louder than every other car, that way none of them get drowned out.

"Everything louder than everything else." - Meat Loaf

By Tamale on 8/7/2008 6:14:29 PM , Rating: 3
actually, most of these people you're calling uncaring are coming up with solutions which would allow for a much higher level of safety for children and blind people alike. cars being too quiet is not a 'problem', it's a good thing. as someone else already pointed out, traffic noise pollution is a damaging thing.. have you no compassion for the quality of life?

By lightfoot on 8/7/2008 6:38:20 PM , Rating: 2
Have you no compassion for people hit by "loud" cars?

The real problem that people are being hit by cars, and usually it has little to do with how loud the car is.

By jRaskell on 8/8/2008 1:04:36 PM , Rating: 3
Children are the responsibility of their parents or guardians. Any parent or guardian who leaves said children unattended around roads shouldn't be allowed to take care of them, plain and simple.

Whether the car is quiet or loud, children are at tremendous risks around roads. I regularly drive a VERY loud muscle car, and I assure you it has little affect on the oblivious nature of all youngsters. Hell, I've seen children remain oblivious even after honking the horn.

I seriously wonder if you have any actual experience with children to begin with.

By Hiawa23 on 8/8/2008 11:18:22 AM , Rating: 2
If you are blind, perhaps you shouldn't be wondering around town by yourself. Very dangerous, especially given all the wackos we have in society looking to take advantage of anyone.

"A politician stumbles over himself... Then they pick it out. They edit it. He runs the clip, and then he makes a funny face, and the whole audience has a Pavlovian response." -- Joe Scarborough on John Stewart over Jim Cramer
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