The Lotus Safe and Sound Hybrid system notifies pedestrians of nearby hybrid cars.

Lotus Engineering

Whenever a film is set in a busy, metropolitan city, a familiar convention that aims to give you a feeling of what it's like to be in that atmosphere is a series of establishing shots. A common view has the camera looking down upon a crowded intersection, filled not just with automobile traffic but pedestrians walking along the sidewalks or crossing over crosswalks.

The accompanying soundtrack is just as important as those visuals. The rumble of engines, the whoosh of cars passing by, turning onto side streets, the squeaky whine of brakes -- all of the sounds we associate with a busy intersection. It serves the purpose of making us feel like we're crossing the street right along with the people on screen.

But what if you took away that soundtrack? Without the added white noise of car engines, the same city street might seem a little empty. Strangely enough, if that same street were filled with hybrid cars, your surroundings would seem a lot like that silent film. Most hybrids on the road are a combination of an electric motor and a gasoline engine. At faster speeds, the gasoline engine will kick in, giving the hybrid enough power to cruise on the highway. But at slower speeds, especially at busy intersections where there are stoplights and stop signs -- where pedestrians have to cross the street -- most hybrids run on electric power.

These electric motors aren't quite as powerful as gasoline engines, so they don't reach particularly high speeds. They're also much quieter than gasoline engines -- practically silent, in fact -- so many people have raised concerns about the dangers hybrid cars pose in busy, populated areas where there's a lot of foot traffic. Although a silent motor might be pleasant to the person sitting in the driver's seat, a noiseless car doesn't give a pedestrian the necessary audio cues to let them know a moving car is in the area.

Lotus Engineering, a company predominantly known for designing sports cars, has developed a system called "Safe & Sound" that aims to solve this problem, making hybrids safe for people as they cross the street. So what is the Lotus Safe & Sound system, and how does it keep pedestrians aware of nearby hybrid vehicles? The answer is on the next page.