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Qualcomm Inductive Charging – A Possible Solution To Range Anxiety in Electric Vehicles

by Kevin Mak | Mar 22, 2012

On March 19th, Qualcomm presented its inductive charging technology for electric vehicles.  It had recently acquired the company HaloIPT, an offshoot of the University of Auckland, New Zealand, that had developed the technology.

The induction system involves the fitment of a receiving pad connected to a control unit and the vehicle’s battery pack.  On the infrastructure side, a charging pad is fitted to the road surface, inside a parking bay.  Both pads contain wiring coils, with magnetic fields transferring the electrical energy from the infrastructure to the vehicle.

The charging system is capable of full operation even where there is misalignment between the induction pads.  To park accurately to align with the charging pad is very difficult in practice – so user experience issues have been taken into consideration.  There is even tolerance in the vertical alignment, should the EV be an SUV model, should there be additional occupants in the EV or should the charging pad needs to be hidden from view under the tarmac surface, such as for street cleaning purposes.  This is due to the Double-D and Double-D Quadrature coils designed to enable energy transfer over a wider area.

Foreign Object Detection systems are currently being developed to prevent charging taking place where children or animals are present in the recharging area.  Despite the presence of magnetic fields and radio waves, Qualcomm is convinced that inductive charging is safe – thanks to its earlier experience with RF technologies in the mobile handset area.  It claims it is much safer than the use of conductive charging, with the threat of electric shock, and the presence of cables that people can trip over.

Qualcomm claim high charging efficiencies of 90 percent – another area where detractors claimed inductive charging has a weakness.  It earlier tested its inductive charging system on a Citroen C1 EVIE and the Rolls-Royce 102EX concepts.  Both a 3 kW single-phase and 7 kW three-phase system were developed.  On the Lola Drayson B12/69EV racing car, a fast-charging 20 kW three-phase system has also been developed.  Transport for London and other UK-based partners are evaluating the system from 2012 onwards.

At present, the technology is at the pre-commercial stage and is awaiting interest from OEMs and Qualcomm’s Tier 1 and Tier 2 automotive customers to bring about a platform design, which would generate economies of scale to make the hardware affordable for mass market deployment.  The first deployment of inductive charging technology could come as early as 2015.

So far, business models mooted include the free or subsidized charging: Offered by retail corporations, perhaps time limited; Insurance corporations, to monitor vehicle movements to prevent theft; or Combined with toll road usage.

Dynamic charging is also a long-term possibility, where the vehicle is charged as it is being driven, thanks to the misalignment tolerance developed by Qualcomm – although this will depend on how fast charging takes place in order to replace the energy consumed to drive the vehicle.

Strategy Analytics believes that such a charging system has the potential to become a success in serving the plug-in vehicle market.  However, the technology is still dependant on the ability to persuade supporting infrastructure to be developed alongside Qualcomm’s attempt to have the system deployed by OEMs.  The danger is that as conductive charging systems are now being standardized (e.g. ChaDeMo, SAE J1772), Qualcomm’s inductive charging system could be left behind.  Even if OEMs do adopt the system, they may also have to fit a conductive charging system as a back-up to it – which adds unnecessary cost.

To help advance Qualcomm’s case in the short term would be to promote its charging system as a retro-fitment to the fleet market, whereby volume deployment can be generated quickly.  That way, OEMs would have an earlier indication of how successful such a charging system could be.

Otherwise, history may repeat itself when players having the right technology fail to succeed, by not getting it to market ahead of their rivals – Qualcomm has to work fast to promote its system, get infrastructure players involved  and develop a platform for OEM adoption before conductive technologies shut it out of the automotive market.

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