In Uruguay, hopes for an EV noise that benefits the planet

18 November 2019

One concern about electric vehicles (EVs) is that they’ve been considered a safety risk because they’re so quiet. That’s changing with new laws in the European Union and beyond, which require EVs to have Acoustic Vehicle Alerting Systems, known as AVAS.

The AVAS are not without some controversy, including the objection that they reintroduce noise pollution that may have impacts on human health and environmental ecosystems. For example, Germany’s environmental agency, the Umwelt Bundesamt, is exploring how and whether AVAS sounds will work. Now, a new partnership between acoustics experts and an EV maker in Uruguay is looking to answer concerns about the artificial noise by developing an AVAS they think may actually promote plant growth and reduce any harms.

While the idea may seem whimsical, there is research to suggest that sonic influences make a difference. “Global research on how noise affects plants shows that they react to specific waveform spectrum vibrations,” say the founders of what they have dubbed the HY Project, with the abbreviation for the word harmony. “When exposed to a specific range of frequencies, plants show better growth and absorption of nutrients.”

The science is not settled, but there are people working toward an understanding of just how sound affects plants, birds, fish, people – and cities, where many EVs are destined for use. Among them is evolutionary ecologist Monica Gagliano at the University of Sydney in Australia, who works in plant bioacoustics, the study of how plants create and respond to sound waves. In 2017, she led a research team that determined plants use sound to find water and interference could have ecosystem impacts.

Others include Indian researchers who published results in 2016 that suggest plants respond to vibrations that alter their growth. After dividing plants into three groups, including one in a silent control chamber, they even recommended using tonal chants in plant nurseries to boost plant health.

It’s these possibilities that led Alejandro Curcio, president of Ayax Toyota in Montevideo, and the acoustics team at The Electric Factory to develop their own EV sound, which they tout as “a first-of-its-kind sonic solution that not only reduces noise pollution but also uses sound waves to foster plant growth, helping to heal the planet.”

The sound developed by HY Project, which can be heard on its website, relies on frequencies that are designed to make the legally required EV noise but not create noise pollution that “disrupts the entire interconnected ecosystem.”

The partner companies have a long way to go before proving their success, but they have some momentum and they’re getting attention. The HY sound already is installed in some Ayax EVs, and the company earlier this month received an “FWA of the day” award from the tech- and innovation-focused FWA website.

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