Although the relative silence of hybrid vehicles has made them the choice of TV gangsters for drive-by shootings, the rest of the world is less than enamored with the difficulty involved in hearing one coming - especially when trying to cross the street. Lotus' response to the problem: engineer a system that re-creates the sound of a normal car. Now that system has been licensed for manufacture by the automotive division of Harman International.

That means brands like Harman Kardon, JBL, Infinity and Mark Levinson - among many others - will have access to the noise cancellation/generation technology. The agreement includes all of Lotus’ Active Noise Control technologies comprising Road Noise Cancellation, Engine Order Cancellation, and Electronic Sound Synthesis.

"The Active Noise Control technologies are part of a steady stream of ground-breaking innovations that Lotus has brought to the automotive industry and we are committed to pursuing further developments in vehicle refinement and environmentally friendly transport solutions," said Mike Kimberley, Chief Executive Officer of Group Lotus plc.

The premise of the noise generation systems seems a bit bizarre, but it turns out that many pedestrians rely on their hearing more than their sight to tell them when danger is near. People listening to music players, talking on cell phones and generally not paying attention all are in danger of not noticing the near-silent hybrids until it's too late.

So Lotus has developed a system that senses the throttle position and combines that data with the input from a speed sensor and a 'synthesis controller' then sends sound through an amplifier and out a set of 300W speakers in the nose of the car. The result is a realistic motor sound for both pedestrians and passengers alike. Engine sounds were chosen because synthetic beeps and similar sounds were found to be less recognizable as an oncoming car.

At the other end of the spectrum is Lotus' Sound Synthesis technology that actively cancels road and engine noise in the cabin, making for a quieter ride all around. This technology can also help tune the sound of the engine from a Porsche-like flat-six to a monstrous American V8.

Toyota is developing a similar noise cancellation system, but as yet hasn't announced an engine sound generation system. German supplier Eberspacher has a system installed inside a car's muffler that can both silence and modulate an engine's sound to create the desired output as well.

Now all that's needed is for aftermarket tuners to get their hands on the system. Then you can cruise the streets of your city with very life-like Formula 1 or Jaguar V12 sounds coming from your Toyota Prius. That'll certainly keep the pedestrians alert, not to mention confused. And now that Harman has the exclusive rights to distribute the system, expect to hear them on your street soon.