Pedestrian warning sounds for electric cars are sometimes a fun extension of the vehicle; but they’re more often dissonant with the rest of the experience—a bit like a bongo drum at the opera, or a geeky science fiction reference thrown out in the middle of golf-course outing.
In short, electric cars are silent, and so having them make noise is weird—weirder in fact than if they were just to loudly say, “Watch out!”
That could be part of the motivation behind an announcement from Tesla CEO Elon Musk that cars might soon be able to talk to people “if you want.”
Teslas will soon talk to people if you want. This is real. pic.twitter.com/8AJdERX5qa— Buff Mage (@elonmusk) January 12, 2020
In an accompanying video snippet, amid giggling, you can hear a voice, “Well don’t just stand there staring, hop in.”
In Tesla models, more external audio capabilities will add to Sentry mode, which Musk said “will make for some epic robber confusion.”
Musk pointed out that of course drivers would also be able to fart in others’ general direction.
This editor, on the other hand, can’t stop thinking about what the “No, You Go!” clip from Portlandia [below] might be like with such a feature.
Such a feature might be of use in several ways in electric cars—as a way of the driver to communicate outside the vehicle at will or as a horn or mouthpiece or, perhaps, as a way of breaking through the din of the city with safety warnings from the car to pedestrians and bicyclists.
2018 Tesla Model 3 Long Range electric car, road test in greater Atlanta area, Feb 2018
The exterior speakers, hidden under the front and rear ends of electric vehicles and open to creative second uses and potential Easter Egg features, are required by pedestrian-alert rules in the U.S. and Europe. Current U.S. rules give automakers a lot of flexibility on pedestrian sounds, but a robotic voice—or any other normal-sounding voice—wouldn’t be allowed as the lone pedestrian alert sound. In Europe those sounds are required to more closely replicate internal-combustion sounds.
Automakers have gone so far as to “craft” their pedestrian alert sounds, within the requirements, to strike a mood. Ford, for instance, has described its chosen sound as “fluid, more chord-like than what you hear across the industry.”
Tesla isn’t the only one to be thinking about how to repurpose those speakers. Harman’s sound system for electric vehicles revealed last week at CES, has a feature that uses those speakers, combined with the subwoofer inside, to create a tailgate sound system.