Toyota has released a video detailing its latest Vehicle Proximity Notification System (VPNS) - a system designed to improve the safety of pedestrians and other road users around near-silent hybrid and electric vehicles by emitting audible warnings – but don’t expect our Prius to get the technology any time soon.
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VPNS broadcasts a range of low- and high-pitched noises when travelling below 15mph (24km/h). The pitch of the tone increases and decreases depending on the vehicle’s speed (a function called ‘pitch-shifting’).

Toyota engineers in the US say the system will improve road safety for cyclists, or pedestrians who may be distracted by mobile phones, and insists it will be especially important to the independence of blind pedestrians who rely on audible warnings from vehicles.

Toyota describes the sound as “automotive in nature, but still futuristic to match the advanced powertrain of our hybrid vehicle”, and says it has been developed to remain effective around other ambient noises and parked cars.

Although no one has established specific guidelines for manufacturers, the US and Japanese governments and the European Commission are all working on a set of standards for minimum noise levels for hybrids, EVs and other near-silent vehicles.

Like the rest of the world, there is no minimum noise standard for vehicles in Australia, and as a result, Toyota Australia’s Mike Breen said there were no plans to introduce the technology to Prius vehicles imported to Australia.

“There is no current plan as, importantly, there are no Australian regulations developed to which we can build it,” Mr Breen said.

Despite its near-silent low-speed operating mode, Mr Breen said concerns over pedestrian safety “isn't an issue for our current Prius”. Toyota will expand its hybrid offering in the first half of next year with the launch of the 'Prius family', including the Prius c, Prius facelift, and Prius MPV.

Nissan Australia plans to take a different approach with its LEAF EV, however, with the local brand requesting of head office in Japan that the innovative Approaching Vehicle Sound for Pedestrians (AVSP) system is fitted as standard to our cars.

If approved, the Nissan LEAF would become the first mass-produced vehicle sold in Australia to incorporate noisemaker technology when it arrives in April 2012.

Nissan Australia’s Jeff Fisher said it would not be confirmed until closer to the end of the year, but said he expected every Nissan LEAF in Australia to come with AVSP as standard.

Like Toyota’s VPNS, Nissan’s audio alert system emits high- and low-frequency tones at speeds from 0-30km/h, and switches back on once the vehicle’s speed drops below 25km/h. It also beeps when reversing, similar to a commercial vehicle.

AVSP can be switched off, but automatically defaults back to ‘on’ each time the car is turned on.

Do you think noisemaker technology is an important feature for all hybrid, electric and near-silent vehicles? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.