The Audi R8 e-tron on the acoustic test bed. The sound is reminiscent of the movie Tron.
CHRISTINA ROGERS

Audi's signature e-sound: Can you hear Hollywood?

Christina Rogers covers VW and regulatory/legislative issues for Automotive News.
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Here's something to ponder: If you were an electric Audi R8, what would you sound like?

Give up?

Well, not to worry: Audi engineers are working to answer this very question.

Starting with the R8 e-tron prototype -- an electric version of Audi's head-turning supercar -- they're using digital keyboards and computer soundboard mixers to develop a signature sound for the brand's plug-in vehicles.

The goal: Ensure pedestrians in urban areas can hear the cars coming down the street. Electric motors, unlike internal combustion engines, are eerily silent on the road, producing little more than the sound of tires rolling on pavement.

Sure, the R8's looks are hard to ignore. But take out the hulking V-8 and the car would be difficult to hear at low speeds.

"We had to convince a lot of people that we need to develop something completely new," Audi engineer Rudolf Halbmeir said in a video produced by the carmaker and posted to its media Web site.

Different, yes. But not totally new.

Halbmeir is among the team of engineers heading up this effort, which involves creating a soundscape that gives a nod to the revs and wind-downs of a conventional engine, but doesn't mimic them outright.

So what have they come up with?

The car emits "Jetsons"-like whines and whirs meshed with a low, synthetic growl reminiscent of a purring engine. The sound is generated by the millisecond and varies based on the vehicle's speed and load, and the motor's rotational speed.

The sound is then carried through speakers attached to the car's underbody for speeds up to 19 mph. For higher speeds, Audi says the tires will be loud enough to alert surrounding traffic.

After several listens, I couldn't help but think that the sound is familiar.

Maybe, it's just the name, e-tron, but it reminds me of the light bikes from the movie Tron.

What do you think?

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