When electric cars began to enter the mainstream I test drove a few of them; the first thing that’s very obvious is how quiet they are, and for a petrol head who likes to hear my engine, it was odd at first. But, as nice and aggressive as a loud engine sounds, you don’t realise what you’re missing or how it affects your driving until you get in a quiet electric car and take it through the countryside, where there’s nothing but you, your car and an empty road.
Volvo’s experiment puts virtual sound to the test, fully demonstrating how our vision and hearing works together to affect how we drive – what’s even more interesting is how it affects the passengers.
Volvo took their latest XC90 plug-in hybrid car – known for its quiet ride – to the Swedish countryside with a random selection of ordinary Swedes, and using 3D audio technology to contradict their sense of environment, Volvo created an immersive experiential bubble inside the vehicle – a virtual city environment using just sound. The result was truly fascinating; a quiet road with no other cars in sight, yet the passengers hear a lorry drive by, motorbikes and an ambulance zoom past the car – watch the full experiment here.
Their senses were unable to figure out what was happening, thereby fully demonstrating the power of sound and how it affects our driving comfort, concentration and how we feel. It also opens up the possibilities for future electric cars, where VR audio could be an option for buyers if they decide to have something different for their journeys. For those who don’t currently drive an electric car, it also creates awareness of how much of our environment we don’t hear anymore, some noises have become natural and our hearing has become immune to them.
How the VR 3D sound was created?
Volvo used a Neumann KU 100 Dummy Head with Binaural Stereo Microphone to record city sounds in central London. The dummy head replicates the human head with a microphone built into each ear – the shape of the human face changing how sound enters your ears.
When a recorded piece of audio is reproduced through high-quality headphones, the listener perceives a sound image almost identical to the one he or she would have heard at the recording location of the dummy head, creating a superior audio quality for distinct spatial depth perception – Click here to experience it with your headphones.
With this experiment, the future is bright for 3D and VR audio and electric cars. How important is sound to your driving experience? Tell us in the comments below. Want to find out more about the XC90 electric car? Click here for more.