Monday, June 23

NPR story on hybrids

Greetings. I received the following story via an email list. Though the text below the link is almost a carbon copy of the text in the audio story itself, I encourage you to follow the link below to the NPR page, and click on the Listen Now link to hear the story itself. The reason: its fascinating to hear what sorts of sounds are used in the demonstrations, and to "not hear" the hybrid that is also demonstrated. Incidentally, there are several items on the NFB national convention agenda during the first afternoon of general sessions on Wednesday, July 2, having to do with the hybrid issue. Whether you listen online or are at the convention itself, I'd encourage you to not miss those hybrid items. Anyway, enjoy the following, and as always, please excuse any formatting errors.

Listen to the story at:

All Things Considered, June 21, 2008 · Hybrid vehicles are touted for
their environmental benefits and, given the spiraling price of
gasoline, their economic benefits. But for visually impaired
pedestrians, who rely on sound cues from oncoming traffic, the
relative silence of hybrid engines poses serious safety concerns.

Stanford graduates Bryan Bai and Everett Meyer have developed a
technology to make hybrid cars sound more like, well, cars. Their
system uses miniature, all-weather audio speakers that are placed on
the wheel wells and broadcasts specific sounds based on what the car
is doing.

"It sounds essentially like a vehicle, except the sounds are more
intelligently projected," says Meyer, who along with Bai co-founded
Enhanced Vehicle Acoustics Inc. in Santa Clara, Calif.

"If a person is in drive mode and moving forward, the sounds are only
projected in the forward direction," he tells guest host Guy Raz. "If
the driver decides to turn left or right, the sound changes on the
left or right appropriately. So it minimizes noise pollution and
maximizes acoustic information for pedestrians."

Hybrids like the Toyota Prius can become eerily silent when driven at
speeds less than 25 mph or, say, when idling at a stoplight. At these
low speeds and in stop-and-go traffic, the vehicles switch from
traditional combustion engines to electric power. This boosts fuel
efficiency — but it also increases the risk for pedestrians.

The system created by Bai and Everett's company, which was formed with
the help of a grant from the National Federation of the Blind, emits
sound when the cars go into silent mode.

The federal government and a handful of states are considering
legislation to set minimum sound levels for hybrid cars. In April,
Reps. Edolphus Towns (D-NY) and Cliff Stearns (R-FL) introduced the
Pedestrian Safety Enhancement Act of 2008. The bill proposes a two-
year study to determine the best strategy for tackling safety concerns
about hybrids among the visually impaired.

Everett acknowledges that his company's devices could be viewed as
adding to the noise pollution of traffic. But, he notes, "there's a
different between noise and sound, and we view our system as producing
sounds which have a purpose."

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