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More Players in the Wireless Charging Mix

by Kevin Mak | Jan 07, 2014

In addition to developments in the wireless charging of hybrid and electric vehicles reported in the blog, EVS27 – Growing Interest in Electrification, New Players Entering Automotive, Strategy Analytics recently spoke to WiTricity, a company founded in 2007 by researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who invented the foundational technology for highly resonant wireless power transfer over distance.

  • The original blog reported updates on developments made by Qualcomm.  This blog gives insight on developments made by its rival, WiTricity.
  • In December 2013, Toyota was licensed to use WiTricity's technology first for trials with plug-in hybrid concepts over 2014, for eventual series production in 2016 or 2017.

Despite being a much smaller company than rivals Qualcomm, WiTricity seems to have greater success in attracting trials with and licensing their technology to OEMs and Tier 1 vendors.

  • WiTricity made a demonstration of wireless charging in Germany as early as 2009.
  • In 2011, Toyota made a small investment in WiTricity in the belief it can speed-up development of a wireless charging system that can meet Toyota’s requirements and the requirements of other global auto makers.
  • Indeed, WiTricity’s strategy is to create reference designs for Level 2 (3.3 kW) wireless charging.   The company says that auto makers are focusing first on residential wireless charging systems for plug-in hybrids and, to a more limited extent, pure electric vehicles with battery packs of less than 40 kWh to ensure affordability and raising demand levels for economies of scale, before entering the market for public infrastructures.  It believes that the absence of a wireless charging standard would inhibit its take-up in public infrastructures anyway.  It also believes that pure electric vehicles will remain a niche market segment, due to the cost of large battery packs needed to offer driving range that is comparable to conventional or plug-in hybrids.  WiTricity believes the greatest demand growth for wireless charging in the next five years would come from plug-in hybrid vehicles, such as the Toyota Prius PHEV sold in mature markets.
  • Despite the Toyota investment, other OEMs have also agreed trials with its technology, which include Audi (in 2012) and Mitsubishi (in 2011).  WiTricity claims that the Toyota investment represents an endorsement of its technology by one of the world’s largest auto makers, but does not in any way prevent other OEMs from taking up its technology.  Tier 1 vendors hoping to generate new business and who have licensed WiTricity’s technology include Delphi and IHI.  Additional Tier 1 licensees will be announced in early 2014.
  • At present, Renault has been the only major auto maker that has agreed a Memorandum of Understanding to a trial with Qualcomm’s technology in July 2012.  Qualcomm technology appears to be similar to that of WiTricity, as it is also based on magnetic resonance rather than traditional magnetic induction.

Technologies from both WiTricity and Qualcomm appear to be based on magnetic resonance and are both targeted to meet the SAE J-2954 standard.

  • WiTricity uses magnetic resonance coils in both the transmitting charging pad on the road surface and the receiving pad onboard the vehicle, which enable a degree of alignment tolerance between the two.
  • The charging efficiency of the system is also around 90 percent, which is comparable with conductive systems.
  • In line with the drafting of J-2954 standard, it too has developed the Foreign Object Detection system needed for the safe implementation of wireless charging systems. Indeed, WiTricity claims to be the pioneer of such a system.
  • The SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) decision to adopt the 85 kHz frequency for wireless charging has come from the agreement of various players involved with the drafting of the J-2954 standard, which does not exclusively benefit Qualcomm but includes others such as WiTricity who are also committee members at the SAE.

With its wireless charging developments in consumer electronics, WiTricity hopes to leverage its expertise in the automotive industry and thus represents a serious challenger to Qualcomm’s aspirations in the sector.

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