Traffic noise is a problem, silence would be too ...

Cartoon appearing on the noise control ordinance of the Hong Kong municipality.

Who has not complained, at leaf once, of the traffic noise? We have surely noticed the quite pleasure of a silent countryside with no car noise to disturb us.

And yet, as technology is about to provide a solution for car noise, the electric car, concern is growing on the danger of a silent car. A ghost moving at high speed that is likely to go undetected until you bump onto it (or more appropriately "are hit by it").

Clearly blind people would have no way to detect a silent car approaching, but that goes for anyone of us who happen to be lost in his own thoughts...
As reported by in an article on Technology Review, researchers are now considering skeuomorphism approaches to solve the problem. Skeuomorphism is a way to copy reality in an artificial interaction.

In the case of electric cars, researchers have started to experiment with a variety of sounds, from the rumble of the engine of a Porsche car to the chirps of birds...

Opinions are diverse. Why would you reintroduce the annoying noise of engines rather than taking the opportunity for swapping that with a more sooting sound?  On the other hand if the object is to provide a warning it better be some sound that awakens your attention!

I found reading the article quite interesting, because at the same time it shows that technology is basically shifting the nature of problems, and it also provides such a variety of possibile approaches that anybody can, rightly, argue in favour or against any specific implementation.

Would the artificial sound of an electric car become a signature, a brand, of its manufacturer? Would it be customisable by the user, as it is the case for the ring tones today? Should regulation mandate the kind of artificial noise a car is supposed to make?

Will new hazard detection technology on the car (e.g. pedestrian detection) overcome the need for an artificial waring sound?

Sometimes it goes beyond the need for warning. It may be a needed/useful feedback to the driver.

A number of electronic keyboards provide a sound feedback (the click as you type on a smart phone screen...) that helps the user to "feel" that his typing is having an effect.... Similarly, the roar of the engine may provide gratification to the driver and a hint that his pushing on the accelerator is reaching the engine...

Interaction is crucial to the acceptance of services and products and as more and more objects will embed some sort of interactivity we will need to pay more and more attention to the HCI, Human Computer Interaction. It may become something that distinguishes the experience with a brand from another but on the other hand some basic standardisation is needed to simplify the interaction, having them becoming seamless. I guess I would not like to find different kind of steering wheels on a car, I would always take for granted that a turn in a clockwise direction will lead the car to turn right....

Author - Roberto Saracco

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