In the lead-up to each issue, Frame challenges emerging designers to answer a topical question with a future-forward concept. For the Future Mobility Challenge in Frame 118, Penny Webb dreams up a sonically responsive material that reshapes car acoustics.
You’ve decided to focus on the ‘hear’ rather than the ‘now’ of future transport . . .
PENNY WEBB: Yes. As engines improve and technologies such as maglev [magnetic levitation] become a reality, quieter landscapes form a foreseeable future. The thinking behind car acoustics needs to be changed. Simply engineering an electric car to sound like a car with a traditional engine isn’t the right way to go.
What do you propose?
A holistic approach to transport design, in which pedestrians are considered as much a part of the experience as drivers are.
What’s the next step?
We need to create transformable acoustic materials that react to their surroundings yet make as little impact as possible. I’m thinking of a tunable environment in which ambient sound is lowered while directed sound is emitted when necessary.
How would you describe ‘transformable acoustic materials’?
Materials engineering has reached the level of microscale, and currently in development is a future generation of smart materials with responsive and transformative properties, which are triggered by environmental changes such as moisture, temperature and strain. With the evolution of materials engineering, environmental behaviours like sound waves will soon provide enough stimuli to produce a sonically responsive material with filtering qualities that can adapt its configuration to augment sonic space. For example, the frequency of a drill could stimulate a molecular change in a surface membrane to block out unwanted noises from the outside.