ROCHESTER, Mich. - It's got that new car sound.
Kind-of-a slightly-high pitched hum that's not quite a whine but also not quite a hum. Maybe the sound of a generator running a portal from a futuristic movie? Or maybe a newer version of the sound made by the breathing apparatus for a villain in a space opera trilogy (points if you get that reference).
Whatever it sounds like, it's a necessary step in the stroll toward a greener future and has nothing, but everything, to do with the engine.
"Then when I learned about the fact that they make absolutely no noise, I literally got knots in my stomach thinking to myself 'I don't know if this was entirely thought through,'" said Jeff Hawkins.
As Hawkins discovered, automakers' new electric vehicles are quiet - really quiet. So much so they could become hazards for people like Hawkins, who is hard of seeing.
Hawkins was only 20 when he learned his vision would worsen to the point he'd lose his driver's license and with it his way of life. Today, he's legally blind. To adapt to his new reality, he tried the cane but didn't like it. Then he turned toward the Leader Dogs for the Blind office in Rochester. Today, he enables the help of his dog Gracie.
Unfortunately for Gracie, not even she can sense when electric vehicles drive by the road. They are that quiet. However, the federal government is working to require new electric vehicles to let the blind and their four-legged friends know there is a vehicle near them. So Ford Motor Company contacted Leader Dogs for the Blind to find that perfect sound.
"Working with this group, we started to work with our clients and test different sounds to understand what they needed to hear and to be sure that the sound that we're producing could work for their needs," said Devin McParlane of Ford Motor Company.
Using Hawkins as a test subject and the expertise of a sound engineer from Royal Oak, together they came up with a new sound. Early reviews appear positive.
"Got a call from Ford fairly recently to come out for us to look at and work with Jeff (Hawkins) to actually see how that technology works from a safety standpoint," said David Locklin, from Leader Dogs for the Bling. "It's excellent."
Part of the reason it really works is that the sound doesn't just register in the ears of people like Hawkins, but their dogs as well.
"It's unique. It's a little different, it's definitely something that catches my attention," Hawkins said. "I really noticed the way Gracie caught on to it."