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Nissan wants its electric cars to ‘sing’ so that you’ll hear them coming

Nissan wants its electric cars to ‘sing’ so that you’ll hear them coming


The IMx concept plays music at low speeds

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Nissan unveiled a new electric concept car at the Tokyo Motor Show today called the IMx, and it’s relatively standard fare as far as these types of futuristic car announcements go. It’s a crossover SUV with a sparse interior that lets giant OLED displays splash and clash with wood grain details. It promises a dreamy 600 kilometer (372 miles) of range without shorting the theoretical driver on power — it’s got the equivalent of over 400 horsepower. And, of course, this literal vehicle is also a metaphorical vehicle for Nissan’s self-driving technology, ProPilot.

The standout feature, then, has more to do with the people around this car than it does with the driver. While the lack of engine noise might be a turnoff for car buffs with a thing for combustion engines, it’s a genuine concern for pedestrian safety. And so instead of being ultra-quiet like most other electric vehicles, this car — and other EVs in Nissan’s future, the company says — “sings” to let people know that it’s coming. Nissan’s calling this suite of sweeping sounds “Canto,” as in Spanish for “I Sing.”

Electric cars might be too quiet to be safe for pedestrians, so companies and governments are trying to fix that now

Nissan didn’t elaborate on exactly how Canto will work, just that the sound will be activated “at speeds of up to 20 to 30 kph,” or about 12.5 to 18.5 miles per hour, “depending on marketplace requirements.” Those requirements are currently pretty loose; the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, for example, will require cars made in and after 2019 to emit a sound at under 19 miles per hour, but doesn’t prescribe what the sound should be.

Some manufacturers, like Porsche, had already committed to bestowing their EVs with some sort of artificial noise before NHTSA announced its requirements. Other companies that are working on more specifically self-driving electric technology have explored visual communication techniques, too.

What little you can hear in the promo video that Nissan released for Canto, which you can watch above, isn’t enough to get a full impression of what it will be like to hear on the street or behind the wheel. There are a few more clips of how it might sound in this video, though.

To me, it sort of resembles what would happen if you took the sound of a traditional car accelerating and ran it through Vocaloid. It’s also reminiscent of the Lucasfilm THX Sound promo that plays before movies. It’s also not all that different from some famous computer startup sounds.

Is that a good thing? Will Canto change by the time Nissan actually builds a car that uses it? And which carmaker will be the first to license the Jetsons noise for its cars? The future holds many secrets.