Episode 2: How important is the sound of electric cars?

Since electric vehicles are almost noiseless, how to warn pedestrians of their approach? How to create audible alerts that are both effective and unobtrusive? How to design a recognizable sound of electric models? Laurent Worms, Head of Sound Development Strategy at the Renault Group, revealed a little more about the process of creating audible pedestrian warnings. And if you want to find out how the electric vehicles of the future sound, be sure to visit Renault’s long-term partner – the Institute for Acoustics and Music Research and Coordination (IRCAM).

It may seem paradoxical to add sound to a vehicle that is quiet in nature and that reduces noise pollution. But still, it is important for security. Without external warnings, pedestrians cannot hear electric vehicles moving at low speeds. In addition, drivers want to hear them in all driving conditions – especially in the city. Pedestrian warnings are mandatory for all electric vehicles and should therefore be an important parameter in their development. If we take the development of “precautionary warnings” as a priority, we will be able to shape the sound in very different and fascinating ways.

“When you drive an electric car, the first thing you notice is silence. We want to give that silence a special voice. ” Laurent Worms, Head of Sound Development Strategy at Renault Group.

The sound of silence

Ever since its first electric concept, the brand has been dedicated to developing special audible pedestrian warnings, and the public first had the opportunity to hear them in 2012 in the serial version of the Renault ZOE. The warning sound also had to be gentle and adapted for pedestrians, but also recognizable enough to be incorporated into other electric models of the brand. “Our goal is to warn pedestrians, without frightening them on that occasion. In this way, we want to establish a positive connection between our audible warning, electric cars and the Renault brand at the same time, ”adds Laurent Worms.

Renault today is working on a new generation of electric models based on the Mégane eVision and Renault 5 Prototype concept cars, which also deserve their own futuristic sound similar to that of research teams of the Department of Sound Design and Element Development perceived by users, developed in the silence of the studios and laboratories of the Institute for Research and Coordination of Acoustics and Music in Paris.

Harmonious arrangement and well-fitting instruments

Sound design is entirely a team effort because it requires vision, technical skills, patience and attention to detail. In addition to requiring the engagement of experts from various departments of the Group (including production, design and engineering), it also includes cooperation with external partners and experts.

The first phase of a project of this importance consists of understanding the technical, ergonomic, functional requirements and issues of industry identity. In other words, its goal is to answer the following question: how should a pleasant audible warning sound?

The collected data is then presented in short discussions on various aspects of sound, using various means such as words, images, sound libraries, and even noise. Certainly, it is important to us that all these elements evoke thoughts and feelings that are in line with our vision.

We then turn our ideas into sound recordings with the help of instruments and real (recorded) or artificial (computer-synthesized) sounds, while adhering to the basic principles of harmony. For example, a consonant chord will create an impression of relief or joy better than any other chord. Conversely, any dissonant chord will immediately cause tension! It is this dichotomy that helps us shape the warning sounds for pedestrians.

So, sound designers take these sounds and create a harmonious mix from them. Then rhythms are added, and the sound is modulated to adapt to the environment, that is, to merge with the movement of the car. This creates a unique, lively and dynamic sound environment with the brand’s signature.

An orchestra under a good conductor’s baton

The research phase is followed by more specific instructions or suggestions. Then all the questions and doubts usually surface. At this stage, it is crucial not to make judgments based on your own taste. This is the first challenge our teams face. Another challenge is to reconcile all opinions, even those that are seemingly irreconcilable. As the project progresses, the head of the user experience management within the Sound Design Department makes sure that everything is in line with the guidelines defined by the teams. When making decisions, the responsible person is obliged to keep the selected and impressive sound signature, even when it is disputable. It is the basis on which a recognizable sound is built that will eventually confirm its quality. And that is the position taken by Renault.

“I want the sound signature of future Renault vehicles to evoke emotions like a seductive perfume, but also to help reduce sound pollution in cities.”, says Laurent Worms

Laurent WORMS: sound expert and successful musician

Laurent is a lover of sound design and new sound technologies. This engineer with a postgraduate degree in acoustics, awarded by the Institute for Research and Coordination of Acoustics and Music, is also a multi-instrumentalist. In his free time, Laurent performs with a band in which he sings covers of pop-rock songs and plays the electric guitar. In addition, he composes music on a computer with the help of analog and digital technologies. And who says work and pleasure can’t go together?

The Renault Group and the Acoustics and Music Research and Coordination Institute: a partnership that has lasted for more than 25 years

The Institute for Research and Coordination of Acoustics and Music was founded by Pierre Boulez and is affiliated with the Georges Pompidou National Center for Arts and Culture under the auspices of the French Ministry of Culture. Since its founding in 1977, its basic mission has been to encourage fruitful interaction between scientific research, technological development and the creation of contemporary music. These areas represent the main framework for all activities in the Institute’s laboratory. There are seven research teams there that have access to a variety of achievements and technologies in the field of music and sound research.

Renault and Institut have been collaborating since 1994 on the design of engine sound, audible warnings, passenger compartment sound and external warnings. Recently, the Institute, and especially Andrea Cera and Nicolas Misdariis, have been working on research projects related to the Renault ZOE and the DeZir, Frendzy, Twin Z, TreZor and SYMBIOZ concept cars.

What is the role of sound in cars?

Source: Auto magazin by www.magazinauto.com.

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