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The Street
The Street
Michael Tedder

This Amazon-Backed Auto Taxi Company Just Made a Very Bizarre Move

How quiet is too quiet?

Electric vehicles offer a lot of pluses, beyond the satisfaction you may feel for doing your part to help out the earth. But there are downsides, and one of the most paradoxical features of EV’s is that they operate so quietly, they can be dangerous for pedestrians or other drivers who don’t hear them coming.

The Amazon (AMZN)-backed company Zoox is currently developing fully-electric autonomous robotaxis that have the same problem as regular EV’s. They’re so quiet that they’re arguably unsafe.

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As noted by Jalopnik, the “AVs need to emit sounds that are simultaneously soothing, yet firm enough to make passengers listen for important audio cues in the cabin.”

So the solution Zoox has hit upon is to hire the classically-trained musician Jeremy Yang to develop a “sound profile” for the vehicle, which will combine relaxing soundtrack with beeping sounds that will momentarily jostle passengers out of their relaxed vibe to remind them to do the regular old car stuff like buckling up, or closing a door that’s ajar.

Zoox is seeking a balance between your autotaxi experience being peaceful and serene, as the company calls the synthesizer-derived sound in the car an “ambient hum,” (i.e. something you’d hear at a fancy spa) with noises that can escalate to the point where you won’t be able to ignore them, depending on the severity of the situation. 

Some of the sonic prompts have been shared with Wired, which notes that the “‘Enjoy the Ride’ overture sounds like a startup screen from an old Windows OS, while the 'Buckle Up!' prompt is a blip like a sonar with a quiet but firm introduction.”

The autotaxis will also make noises to warn pedestrians, especially ones that are hard of hearing to stay out of the way, as required by U.S. law, which mandated that EVs traveling under 30 miles per hour must audibly warn pedestrians to their presence. Yang has devised an “arresting phaser” sound that should capture the attention of even the most obvious pedestrians. 

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