We all know electric cars are better for the environment – not least for pedestrians walking by busy roads – and they are silent too. But this raises its own set of problems which Jaguar has claimed to have solved a year ahead of upcoming global noise regulations.
With no engine sound, the electric Jaguar I-PACE – due in Australia later this month priced at around $120,000, plus on roads – required a new way to warn blind, visually impaired and other vulnerable road users when approaching at low speed.
Initially Jaguar developed a sci-fi type of noise – rather like a spacecraft approaching – but found pedestrians often looked up to the sky when they heard it, not the road.
So, Jaguar has designed what they call Audible Vehicle Alert System (AVAS) for its first EV and they claim it meets and exceeds all upcoming global legislation.
From July 2019, the European Union will require all electric cars to be heard at speeds up to 20km/h with a minimum 56dB level. The EU legislation is set to be the strictest in the world, but it’s highly likely all other places EVs are sold will have similar if not the same requirements very soon.
The I-PACE’s sound – have a look at the video to get an idea – was tested by members of Guide Dogs for the Blind, the UK’s leading charity for people affected by sight loss, as part of the testing undertaken by Jaguar. It also marks the start of an on-going relationship between the two organisations.
Iain Suffield, Jaguar NVH Technical Specialist, said: “The absence of traditional engine noise from electric vehicles creates a problem for vulnerable pedestrians, such as the blind or visually impaired. This is especially true at low speeds in town centres and car parks.
We developed the Audible Vehicle Alert System for the I-PACE to ensure the safety of all road users. Our potentially life-saving technology cannot be switched off and as the leading charity for people with sight loss, we are pleased to have the support of Guide Dogs to ensure real people are at the heart of our product testing.”
Jaguar’s engineers worked for four years to develop a soundtrack that is audible yet discreet and cannot be heard from inside the vehicle.
Initial attempts to create a noise inspired by the sound of sci-fi spacecraft had to be shelved after pedestrians reacted by looking up to the sky, rather than at the road, as the vehicle approached.
Engineers tested sounds in several environments, including an anechoic chamber (specialist echo-free room) and a number of urban scenarios, before settling on the final sound for the I-PACE. It is emitted from a speaker behind the front grille, can be heard in every direction, and cannot be disengaged.
The alert increases in pitch and volume in line with the speed of the vehicle and, when in reverse, is accompanied by an additional tone that indicates the change in direction. Thankfully it’s not the irritating beeping sound heard when a truck reverses, but it’s still clearly a reversing vehicle.
AVAS is not required at higher speeds as there is judged to be sufficient wind and tyre noise for pedestrians to hear the zero-emissions vehicle approaching.
John Welsman, Policy Business Partner (Travel & Mobility), Guide Dogs for the Blind, said, “Guide Dogs campaigned hard to make it compulsory for quiet vehicles to have sound generating systems built in and turned on, including when the vehicle is stationary at a pedestrian crossing.
We applaud Jaguar for being the first to launch an EV which meets standards before the new legislation even comes in and look forward to working with the company more in the future.”
Fitted with a 90kWh lithium-ion battery, two Jaguar-designed motors and a bespoke aluminium structure, the I-PACE is capable of 0-100km/h in 4.8 seconds and a range of up to 470kms (WLTP).
Tony Bosworth writes for www.TheDriven.io and RenewEconomy.com.au. He has 35 years experience in journalism, and has been instrumental in launching and editing several automotive magazines including Which Car? magazine in the UK.