Ford's Directional Audio Alerts use 3D sound to make safety beeps smarter

The company is testing out Directional Audio Alerts that let drivers know where a potential hazard is coming from and what it is.

Pretty much all modern cars these days beep incessantly in the name of safety. Whether you’re getting too close to another car while parking, or trying to change lanes with a car in the way, new vehicles love to fire off lots of generic cues. While you may not give the nature of those warnings a lot of thought, Ford apparently has, and is now making an effort to improve their sophistication.

The car manufacturer has been testing out its Directional Audio Alerts that were designed to play a corresponding sound that comes from the direction of the potential hazard. That means that if you’re about to pull out of your parking spot and there’s a cyclist coming up on your left, it would play a bicycle bell sound from the back left side of the car. Ford’s initial demo of its safety feature also showed that it can play footsteps to represent a pedestrian and vehicle noises for cars.

It’s certainly a step up from the basic warning sounds that current cars offer and Ford’s initial tests have shown a pretty high degree of accuracy.


Initial results — Ford said the Directional Audio Alerts will use sensors and software that can detect any nearby hazards, whether it’s a pedestrian, cyclist or another car. Then, it uses algorithms to play the corresponding noise through one of the surround-sound speakers in the car.

Ford tested its Directional Audio Alerts in a simulated environment where drivers had to identify what the hazard was and where it was coming from, and saw 74 percent accuracy. Even in a test using just a regular tone from the appropriate speaker, Ford said the drivers correctly identified the location of the hazard 70 percent of the time. Ford engineers said they also saw positive results when testing it out in the real world on a van that was backing out of a parking space.


As for that remaining 26 percent, let’s just say you shouldn’t completely rely on a car’s safety warnings anyways. It’s fair to assume that Ford isn’t developing this technology to make us lazier drivers that never have to check blind spots, but as an additional layer of safety.

Still testing — Ford didn’t really say when this technology would make it to market, only mentioning that it’s being developed for trial purposes and that it’s not currently available. Their engineers did note that those initial results could be improved upon in the future by using 3D spatial audio that you see nowadays in movie theaters and with gaming. Ford’s Directional Audio Alerts are obviously driver-facing, but it feels like cyclists should be psyched too, considering they may not have to worry so much about getting doored on a daily basis.