Blog: Vive la wireless charging!

By WiTricity CMO Amy Barzdukas

Someone sent me a link the other day to a pilot project they read about, looking to make a stretch of highway into an EV charger – the concept is known as dynamic charging. It’s an interesting use case for wireless power transfer, and one we’re familiar with!

At WiTricity’s Watertown, Massachusetts HQ, I recently snapped this pic of a piece of track that powered the first demonstration of dynamic charging technology.

This piece of charging history dates back to 2017, the year Qualcomm’s Halo, since acquired by WiTricity, proved the technical feasibility of dynamic charging, and it’s just a piece of the overall technology we built: the designs, the technology, the IP.

Below is a video of dynamic charging in action on a test track that was installed near Versailles, outside of Paris, and one of the two vehicles that was charging while driving on it.

Michael Kissin, WiTricity’s Director of Engineering at our Auckland, New Zealand development center, led the team who built the test track. I talked to him about how it felt to demonstrate dynamic charging – and the developments that have happened since then.

How did it feel to prove dynamic charging for the first time?
It was really amazing that we were able to successfully complete a project that had so many challenges associated with it. When we started, nobody knew if it was even possible, but we hit all our targets with the system and even exceeded a few of them, like the maximum vehicle speed. We weren’t supposed to go faster than 100 km/h (or about 60 mph) – but we actually achieved 120km/h or ~75mph.

What have we learned since?

Since we developed the original Dynamic Electric Vehicle Charging (DEVC) system in 2017, the standardization process has completed for light duty vehicles through SAE, the IEC, and China GB, all based on our pioneering technology. We now have a much better idea of what is required to make the DEVC system compatible with stationary wireless electric vehicle charging systems. That’s really important in order to keep costs down as much as possible by streamlining development and ensuring interoperability.
We also learned a lot about which parts of the system were going to be important from a reliability perspective, which will help us improve the viability of the system for long installed life.

There are vehicles in production coming soon with wireless charging – any other future predictions?
I think that as we get more and more people living with electric vehicles, there’s going to be a big push to integrate them into our lives in other ways such as grid support, home-scale energy storage, and smart home integration. Wireless charging will help enable those uses since you don’t have to remember to plug the vehicle in – just by parking, the vehicle will be available.

How long before we see dynamic charging in production, rather than demonstration? What are the hurdles?
That’s a big question! I think we may see small scale installations – not pilots — in as little as 3 years now that the standards are settling into place. Since we’ve shown that the technology itself works and have developed the IP, the biggest hurdle is the business case and costs around getting the infrastructure installed, then working through how it would be monetized.

It’s important in this context to note that the industry and the economics have changed since we built the Versailles track – specifically the cost of batteries. When the early EVs came out with ranges of under 80 miles, electrifying lots of road made financial sense – invest in the commons. But now that passenger vehicles can get close to 300 miles, the investment may make less sense for general use and more sense for targeted commercial use.

Passenger vehicles, in general, are parked more than 18 hours a day. So it makes sense to charge them while they’re parked, by making charging easy at home and at work. Semi-dynamic charging, like putting charging pads in taxi queues is another great solution, so fleets can do “power snacking” during the day. Dynamic charging may be best served for things like public transit. What’s really exciting is how all of these interesting solutions for wireless charging are being built on the technology WiTricity has developed. The future is wireless!