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Wireless car charging is the future

Wireless car charging is the future

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is envisioning a future where you can pull into a parking space and be given the option to wirelessly charge your electric car. It just needs somebody to invent the technology.

Up to four contractors will be rewarded with up to US12 million in DOE grant money for innovation in static wireless charging. The DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory published the grant opportunity last week.

Wireless charging technology most overcome problems the DOE has identified in today’s solutions including reduced efficiency, high vehicle integration costs, as well as unproven reliability and safety performance, it says. Extra charging locations could reduce vehicle weight, further driving energy efficiency, the DOE noted.

The auto industry also see this need. Auto parts maker Delphi is working on a high-efficiency wireless charging technology in partnership with WiTricity Corp. It has obtained patent rights from MIT to build its solution. Several automakers are also investigating wireless solutions.

The technology that DOE envision creates a very interesting business opportunity. Just imagine restaurants, hotels, and parking garages offering customers the option to charge up while they wait. Park, and an alert on your vehicle’s touchscreen console will prompt you to start the process. A cash transaction wouldn’t even be necessary - payment could be charged to an iTunes like account.

Of course, this type of system is much easier to envision than to build MIT scientists first demonstrated its wireless power transfer system (for consumer electronics) back in 2007. Maybe Delphi’s implementation will fulfill the DOE’s vision, but more people need to own electric cars before your local McDonalds will install charging stations.

The concept of wireless charging hasn’t caught on in the mass market beyond the Powermat concept for cell phones. Apple applied for its own wireless charging patent last year. If any company could advance wireless charging, it’s probably Apple. The DOE’s best effort aside, I think that it’s more likely we’ll see this type of technology in the cell phone market before it takes the automotive world by storm.