Your vehicle is speaking to you. Are you listening? The group at Ford Motor Company charged with ensuring vehicle harmony is working to make sure the messages are getting through to you – even if you don’t realize it.
As recently as last summer, the group was a four-person division known as Interior Harmony, part of Ford’s Electrical Division. The group used a components-based approach to adding sound chimes to various parts of a vehicle.
Since then, the group has moved to Ford’s larger Vehicle Engineering Division, changed its name to Vehicle Harmony, and now considers a vehicle in its entirety when working on such aspects as illumination, haptic feel and sound. With its changing role, the Dearborn-based team continues to grow, and works with global counterparts in facilities in Germany, Asia-Pacific and South America.
The group’s work on vehicle sounds is an ever-evolving world of pings and chimes, influenced by the constant addition of new technologies, such as lane-keep assist and collision alerts, as well as by a surrounding world in which audio alerts are more and more common.
The science behind vehicle chimes creates an unspoken language between driver and vehicle. Jennifer Prescott, an engineer with the group, is on the team that creates the sounds that enable Ford vehicles to let the customer know when a door is ajar, lights are left on, or a safety belt isn’t fastened.
But in a world that bombards motorists with text message pings, email alerts and alarm clock buzzers, are the chimes drowning themselves out?
Prescott says they are, which is why it’s important that every sound a Ford vehicle makes is designed to break through the clutter and get noticed. This is a mandate for the group, even as it’s pressed to create more chimes to keep pace with an expanding portfolio of features that warrant an audio alert.
“Our inclination has been to add more sounds for more alerts, but people are getting chimed out,” Prescott said. “Because of that, our audio alerts must be intuitive – instantly recognized by drivers.”
The right balance of frequency, volume, cadence and tone helps differentiate between high-importance alerts, such as a collision warning, and gentle reminders, such as the tick-tock of a turn-signal indicator. Ford vehicle sounds – there are about 30 that make up the pallet of audible chimes – are designed to have their own characteristics, each created based on the urgency of the message being conveyed.
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