Electric cars might change the world, or at least drastically change how we fuel our vehicles.

Putting a charge into our "tank" instead of a few gallons of fossil fuel will not only shift our dependence on foreign oil, it will bring out unintended changes to our daily drivers that might end up creating additional challenges.

Since there aren't any "charge stations" like there are gas stations, most electric vehicle antogonists point to a problem with range. That is to say, where will we fuel them? It's difficult to consider how you'd get an electric car started if you were in the middle of nowhere with no charge (a spare tank of fuel is transportable, while they haven't yet invented an extension cord that stretches down the highway).

But one group that's speaking up makes us realize that we haven't fully considered the massive changes associated with moving from internal combustion engines to electric propulsion. Since electric motors are incredibly quiet, they're almost imperceptible on the road from an ambient noise perspective.

This lack of road noise ends up becoming a safety concern, especially for blind citizens who rely on sound as a primary sense when crossing roads and navigating streets.

If electric cars are too quiet, how will we know they're coming?

GM, soon to launch their Chevy Volt extended-range electric vehicle, is working to help with this issue. Earlier this year they invited members of the National Federation of the Blind into their engineering studios to come up with a solution to the Volt's soft-spoken motor.

"They are a group that relies on sound cues to travel," said Doug Moore, GM's vehicle performance engineer for the Volt. "And vehicles like the Volt have a drastically different sound cue, or nothing at all compared to traditional vehicles and they have a lot of good ideas about what we might do in the future."

GM invited several members of the federation to their Milford, Michigan proving ground to experience a sound the company is developing for use on the Volt, a vehicle that is extremely quiet at low speeds.

"We want it to be more of an 'excuse me' sound as opposed to a 'hey you!' sound," said Andrew Farah, the Volt's chief engineer. "And we also want something that is more automotive in nature. We don't want it to sound like birds; we want it to sound like a car."

The early version of this sound is similar to a short horn honk, almost like bit of Morse code played through an automobile horn.

The NFB is confident that in working with companies like GM they can develop a solution.

“We are confident electric vehicles can produce a safe and acceptable level of sound to alert blind pedestrians to their presence,” said John Par? NFB executive director of strategic initiatives. “We look forward to working with Chevrolet and GM to identify an appropriate sound that will alert pedestrians in the most effective and least disruptive way possible.”

GM is doing the right thing by thinking about these issues early on and, as the NFB points out, the sound solution that comes out of this process will benefit everyone, not just members of the blind.

Read More

- In Pictures: Chevy Volt
- Read More on Hybrid Vehicles
- Research Safe Cars


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