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Toyota Licenses Wireless Charging Tech from WiTricity

Big manufacturers of EVs and consumer electronics are nudging wireless power charging forward

2 min read
Toyota Licenses Wireless Charging Tech from WiTricity
Image: Randi Klett; Car: iStockphoto

You drive home in your electric car, enter your garage, and step out the car holding your briefcase in one hand and groceries in the other. Wouldn't it be nice if you could charge the car without physically plugging in?

Toyota thinks so. Wireless power startup WiTricity announced yesterday that Toyota has licensed inductive charging technology from the MIT spin-off and that the carmaker will build wireless power capture devices into future vehicles. Toyota invested in WiTricity two years ago.

The idea of wireless charging isn't new: GM’s ill-fated EV1 was charged using an inductive paddle. And although wireless charging for EVs or consumer electronics is far from commonplace, advancesin thepast decade show that the technology is maturing and that manufacturers are committed to building it into their products.

Earlier this year, Satoshi Ogiso—one of the engineers who headed development of the first Prius—said Toyota will begin verifying a wireless power charging system next year in the U.S., Europe, and Japan. Nissan, which makes the all-electric Leaf, is working on a wireless charging system and told reporters last year that it intends to offer it as an option in a 2015 model year Infiniti. Daimler and Volvo are also working on wireless charging and Bosch already sells a wireless charging system for the Leaf and Chevy Volt.

One of the major companies in inductive charging infrastructure is Qualcomm, which acquired wireless vehicle charging technology from London-based HaloIPT two years ago. Now called Qualcomm’s Halo division, the company intends to run a trial in London with wireless charging pads on parking spots and cars equipped with sensors to indicate they are aligned above the charging pad. The Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) is running a trial where electric buses are charged while on the move from wireless pads embedded in the road ways.

Inductive charging works by transferring electric power from a transmitter coil to a nearby coupled device, such as a car or phone. When current flows through the coil, it produces a magnetic field. That field induces a flow of electric current on a coil on a receiving device. (For more on the technical challenges of the technology, read "A Critical Look at Wireless Power").

The auto industry association SAE International last month agreed on a frequency range and three power transfer rates for wireless electric vehicle charging. That sets the stage for development of interoperable charging products from different providers. 

For WiTricity, the Toyota licensing deal follows an investment in October from Intel’s venture arm, Intel Capital, and contract manufacturer Foxconn. It takes automakers years to build new components, such as a wireless receiver, into their vehicles. But consumer electronics companies are likely to incorporate wireless power into their products sooner, said WiTricity CEO Eric Giler.

WiTricity has already built a prototype of a phone with a wireless receiver built into it. When placed near a laptop with a transmitter coil, the phone charges. “Intel is quite keen to get this into portable devices. If that happens, it’s a reason to get the latest and greatest devices,” Giler said. “Seeing these things in the market in the next 12 to 18 months is entirely realistic.” 

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Chinese Joint Venture Will Begin Mass-Producing an Autonomous Electric Car

With the Robo-01, Baidu and Chinese carmaker Geely aim for a fully self-driving car

4 min read
A black car sits against a white backdrop decorated with Chinese writing. The car’s doors are open, like a butterfly’s wings. Two charging stations are on the car’s left; two men stand on the right.

The Robo-01 autonomous electric car shows off its butterfly doors at a reveal to the media in Beijing, in June 2022.

Tingshu Wang/Reuters/Alamy

In October, a startup called Jidu Automotive, backed by Chinese AI giant Baidu and Chinese carmaker Geely, officially released an autonomous electric car, the Robo-01 Lunar Edition. In 2023, the car will go on sale.

At roughly US $55,000, the Robo-01 Lunar Edition is a limited edition, cobranded with China’s Lunar Exploration Project. It has two lidars, a 5-millimeter-range radar, 12 ultrasonic sensors, and 12 high-definition cameras. It is the first vehicle to offer on-board, AI-assisted voice recognition, with voice response speeds within 700 milliseconds, thanks to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8295 chip.

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