First there were ringtones; thousands of bits of music which made every cell phone ring unique and distinguishable from every other. Now, in an effort to insure pedestrian safety, nearly soundless electric vehicles from Audi in the R8 e-tron model line will also get their very own signature sound, thanks to a control unit that initiates sounds based on signals from the vehicle and a loudspeaker that transmits the sounds.
Called Audi e-sound, the melodies (?) are created by acoustic engineer Rudolf Halbmeir, whose workstation includes a digital piano instead of a printer, and two very high-end speakers connected to his computer monitor. But Halbmeir isn’t rocking out to the daily grind. He’s developing “car sounds” ranging from low-range frequencies that subconsciously telegraph power and composure, to the middle ranges, which deliver an impression of quickness and speed.
According to Halbmeir, sound is an elemental aspect of driving, eliciting emotions rather than judgments. After years of practice, he and colleague Ralf Kunkel have learned how to emphasize pleasant noises and block unpleasant ones using computers to mix tones, evaluate their effectiveness and then mix again, eventually producing Audi e-tron synthetic sound signatures to override the higher registers of an electric engine, which are far from musical.
Teaming with Axel Brombach and Lars Hinrichsen, Halbmeir creates what he calls “one-of-a-kind” sound patterns which essentially reflect a particular vehicle’s audible engine patterns. Some of this “engine music” is developed from the soundtracks of science fiction films (which is what electric cars, or EVs, still seem like to some of us Luddites!).
And, while the sound might be artificially generated, it genuinely reflects motor speeds, vehicle speed, load and other EV aspects which are continuously telegraphed to the vehicle’s control unit, which uses the information to generate a sound and play it through a loudspeaker mounted under the car. Fortunately, very little to none of that sound is allowed to penetrate the EV’s interior. As we reported last month, this individualized car sound might soon be available to wealthy Americans as a result of Audi’s stated intent to conduct an e-tron feasibility study in the United States.