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Nissan is using a video game trick to fix its terrible car alert sounds

Video game developers have mastered the art of using audio to get your attention.

Imagine the EKG beep sound from an emergency room and you’ll know what it’s like to drive a newer Nissan car. Recent models like the Rogue or Altima feature less-than-pleasant in-car alert noises, but luckily, Nissan is finally doing something about it.

The company recently reached out to some audio experts to make them better, and since Nissan is from Japan, those audio experts were Bandai Namco. The creators of Pac-Man and Tekken were tasked with creating new alert sounds that are simultaneously emotional and informative.

In other words: they have to be pleasant to hear, but urgent in the message conveyed.

Hiroyuki Suzuki is Nissan’s lead engineer for in-car information sound design, which means he’s the one responsible for all the beeps and chirps in Nissan’s cars.

“In game development, Bandai Namco's sound creators develop sounds that simulate players' intuitive understanding,” Suzuki says in a press release. “We collaborated to create sounds that can help drivers have a similar intuitive understanding.”

Minamo Takahashi (left), sound director at Bandai Namco Research Inc., working with Nissan sound designer Hiroyuki Suzuki (right).Nissan

In other words, the same sense of uh oh, I better pay attention that’s triggered by video game sounds should be instinctual when a seat belt alert chimes. Those alert sounds must convey important information without distracting the driver from the task at hand.

Whether the noises are alerting you that a door is ajar or the automatic emergency braking system has been triggered, they need to be intuitively understood based on the urgency and seriousness of the situation.

A selection of old and new audible alerts from Nissan vehicles.Nissan

"Research has shown that urgency depends on the frequency of the sound, and that severity depends on the frequency itself,” explains Nissan ergonomics test engineer Miwa Nakamura in a statement.

You can hear the old and new audio in the video above and it’s immediately apparent that the new sounds are much more pleasant, while also conveying a need for attention from the driver.

Carmakers take in-car audio really seriously, but that doesn’t mean they can’t have a bit of fun at the same time. The turn-signal sound in new Volvos started life as a stick being snapped in two (either from a spruce or a fir tree near Volvo’s Swedish headquarters).

Volvo’s engineers snapped and recorded some 300 sticks that had fallen to the forest floor since dead and dried sticks make more of a crack. Then they adjusted the sound for pitch and giving the turn signal a calming rate of around 150 ticks per minute.

Minamo Takahashi, sound director at Bandai Namco Research Inc., working on Nissan’s new in-car sounds.Nissan

Some automakers get a little fancier than a bunch of broken sticks, though. A few years ago, Lincoln enlisted the Detroit Symphony Orchestra to record alert tones for its cars (and truthfully they’re very pleasant noises).

Then they got jazz drummer Karriem Riggins, a Detroit native, to remix the alert tones into an entire song. I don’t know if Nissan’s video game-inspired sounds will get turned into a song anytime soon, but maybe some inspiring indie-developer will use ‘em for their next game. As long as they ask permission first, of course.

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