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Addressing the danger of too-quiet electric cars, with a little help from Blade Runner

The growing popularity of the electric car may be beneficial for the environment, but their near-silent operation means the vehicles may also be a dangerous threat to pedestrians.

The problem with electric cars? They're too quiet.

The growing popularity of the electric car may be beneficial for the environment, but their near-silent operation means the vehicles may also be a dangerous threat to pedestrians.

Some groups, including advocates for the blind, children and the elderly, say pedestrians may fail to notice approaching electric vehicles. To address those safety concerns, transportation agencies in the U.S. and Japan may mandate artificial sounds for the vehicles, reports Bloomberg.

Car makers such as Nissan and Toyota are researching sound as silent models continue to enter the auto marketplace. But instead of simply reincarnating the sound of a gasoline-powered engine, car makers are consulting musicians to invent something new.

Bloomberg reports on Nissan's activity:

The company consulted Japanese composers of film scores. What [engineer Toshiyuki] Tabata and his six-member team came up with is a high- pitched sound reminiscent of the flying cars in “Blade Runner,” the 1982 film directed by Ridley Scott portraying his dystopian vision of 2019.

“We wanted something a bit different, something closer to the world of art,” Tabata said.

The sound system would automatically activate when the car starts, and shut off when the vehicle reaches 12 miles per hour, according to the engineer in the article.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is currently analyzing data on crashes involving pedestrians and hybrid vehicles and plans to issue a final report by January.

The National Federation of the Blind has urged car makers to incorporate noise into the designs of hybrids and plug-in electric vehicles.

But with little oversight, it's anyone's guess what the engine of the future will sound like.

Tokyo-based electronics manufacturer Datasystem Co. makes a device selling for about $140 that emits 16 different sounds, including a cat’s meow, a cartoon-like “boing” and a human voice saying, “Excuse me.”

Despite a lack of regulation, Nissan said it may equip its Leaf electric car with a sound system in time for the car's introduction next year. The addition will increase the car's sticker price, which has not yet been announced and will begin sales next year in the U.S., Japan and Europe.

General Motors has said it will introduce its Volt plug-in electric car by November 2010, and Toyota said it will introduce a battery-powered vehicle in 2012.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com