Smarter EV Sound Systems
To research, develop a perspective on, prototype and test how pedestrian safety could be improved via the use of sensor data to create smarter, more meaningful external vehicular sound systems
Duration: Winter 2017 (~8 weeks)
Client: Self-initiated under ustwo AUTO
The idea for this project started when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) passed a rule that mandates all Electric Vehicles (EV) to make an audible sound when traveling in reverse or forward at speeds of about 19 miles per hour by 2019. The goal of this rule is to alert all nearby pedestrians and cyclist of an incoming EV, as the lack of a combustion engine noise makes it harder for people around these vehicles to safely recognize and react to them.
After discussing how current car manufacturers are tackling this issue and identifying several opportunities to share our perspective on the matter, a team at ustwo got together to ask: Is there a more user-centric and innovative way to solve the issue of EV sounds and their impact on pedestrian safety?
Through the span of 8 weeks, we explored the possibilities of improving pedestrian/vehicle safety interactions via the use of sounds that communicate more than what current approaches do. By keeping this project completely exploratory, it gave us the freedom to create a hypothesis and test it with the primary goal of learning more about our initial perspective.
Some of my responsibilities for the project included:
- Conducting in-depth research, including interviewing experts on the fields of Cognitive Sciences and Sound Design
- Using user-centered design methodologies to uncover insights and opportunities
- Formulate a testable hypothesis
- Create test scripts and conduct user testing sessions for a Virtual Reality (VR) Prototype
- Collaborating with an external Sound Design agency to explore different auditory concepts
- Write a 6,000+ word long thought piece
- Create supporting assets and diagrams to communicate our thinking
THE THOUGHT PIECE
One of the initial goals of the project was to share our perspective and what we learned with the industry. To achieve this, and to follow practices established by the ustwo AUTO team in London, we decided to write an in-depth thought piece that covers all our process, from understanding the problem and looking at the current landscape, to share our point of view and the lessons we learned by testing our assumptions.
The piece was published on the ustwo blog and covered by WIRED magazine:
WHAT I LEARNED
If there's an area you're truly passionate about, roll up your sleeves and get started.
This project was a tight collaboration between people that truly believed in what they were doing and that are passionate about the future of mobility, autonomous vehicles and how they will impact our cities. Curiosity, strong teamwork and putting in the hours was all we needed to make a question and a discussion become a fully-fledged project that was published for the industry to see.
Play to your strengths and recognize your gaps while finding the right partners to fill them.
Early in the project we recognized that, in order for our piece to be much more tangible to readers, we would need to explore and work on audio samples to clearly communicate our ideas. Considering this is a skill we do not have in-house, we teamed up with Music and Sound Design studio Man Made Music to help us find different sound alerts that would carry the right message. Working with Man Made Music helped us look at the challenge from a much more open perspective, while strengthening the core reasoning behind some of our design decisions. This project became the beginning of a great collaboration between companies and created a much stronger piece that we would have developed by ourselves.
The ustwo team consisted of:
- 2 Product Designers
- 1 VR Engineer
The Man Made Music team (our Sound Design partners) consisted of:
- 1 Creative Director
- 1 Strategy Director