Can you imagine a world where we are all driving electric cars and you don’t ever have to physically plug in your vehicle to charge? Clever engineers at Qualcomm think that this might be possible sooner than we anticipate. Motorsport might help accelerate this ideal EV scenario. One of the reasons it partnered up with the new global electric FIA Formula E Championship is to showcase wireless charging technology.
“When we talked about the idea of wireless charging, every car company said yes, please, we would like to improve the vehicle’s freedom,” says Graeme Davison, Vice President of Technologies within Qualcomm Europe. ElectricAutosport.com sat down with the technology expert along with his colleague Joe Barrett, Senior Director at Qualcomm, during one of the Formula E tests held at Donington Park.
Qualcomm isn’t just about the chips in our mobile devices. The American multi-billion tech giant is a master in doing research, investing five billion dollars a year to develop new innovating ideas. One of its wireless technologies is called Qualcomm Halo™, focusing on wireless electric vehicle charging. “A team of research engineers worked on charging mobile devices like smartphones and tablets and examined the possibility of high power charging. They made it work, but they didn’t know what to do with it. So we thought: ‘why not charge electric vehicles wireless?” Davison explains.
Concerning Formula E; the Qualcomm Halo™ technology will be embedded in the safety car and Drayson Technologies, set up by former British Minister of Science Lord Paul Drayson, has licensed the technology. Drayson has been involved in a number of electric racing projects since 2007 and is a partner of the TrulliGP Formula E Team.
How it works
“Do you have an electric toothbrush at home?” Davison asked. “Wireless charging your car works exactly the same way. What we’ve done is to make this system more efficient, increasing the gap between the charging pads and make it suitable for transferring more power.”
Qualcomm Halo™ Wireless Electric Vehicle Charging (WEVC) technology uses resonant magnetic induction to transfer energy between a ground-based pad and a charging pad on the electric vehicle. The base pad and the vehicle pad are magnetically coupled, and the energy is transferred wirelessly from the base pad, into the vehicle pad, where it is used to charge the vehicle’s batteries.
It’s as simple as that. The system has a high tolerance of misalignment and it claims an efficiency of over 90%. The technology would make it possible to dynamically charge your vehicle in the near future too.
Charging on the go, not to worry about plug in your car into a socket when you are in a hurry and a possible decrease of range anxious: convenience is the largest benefit of wireless charging. “Take the example of the mobile phone, video recorder, DVD or any other electronic device you use on a regular basis. It is all about ease of use,” Davison points out.
Mass adoption of new technology has to meet this requirement. That should be the key for success. “With Qualcomm Halo™ WEVC you just park your car, get out and your phone automatically asks if you would like to charge or not. You tap yes and walk away.”
Wireless charging your car at home or at a parking lot near the supermarket would be the first step. The possibilities seem endless. “You eventually get to a point where a taxi driver is able to charge while queuing before getting the next passengers,” Barrett explains. “And from that point you can start putting the technology into the road. Then you will be able to charge and drive at the same time. ‘Snack charging’ is how Graeme calls it.” There is indeed a future roadmap for dynamic charging. “Then you effectively never have to charge with a cable.”
Qualcomm is engaged with car companies around the world and has helped developing prototypes with integrating its technology. One of them is Renault, another partner of Formula E and is title sponsor of the e.Dams-Renault Formula E Team. “We’ve been getting technology to a stage from where you can use it commercially. We think it’s going to be 2017 when you see wireless charging as a product or option while selecting a car,” Barrett predicts.
But what exactly caught Qualcomm’s attention to get involved in Formula E? “We both share a strong belief in sustainability and we believe that the car is our next mobile device. And where better to showcase new technologies as in motorsport”, Davison says. “Formula E’s vision of fan experience is different from what we’ve seen in any other championship, making them part of the event. Whether they are at the track or not, it is what you can do on mobile devices that keeps fans engaged.” Davison points to fanboost where you can vote for your favourite driver so he gets a boost of electric energy for overtaking for instance, online gaming and implementation of augmented reality.
The 200kW (270hp) strong battery-electric Formula E racing cars aren’t embedded with Qualcomm’s Halo™ technology, but the safety car will be. “It will use our system during the first season,” says Barrett. The car will be presented on the 19th of August at Donington Park. “It needs to be instantly available. So you can’t get out of the car, unplug and pull away. Seconds can cost lives.”
Wireless charging technology is however not new to motorsport. Lord Paul Drayson and his team of engineers have built the 640kW (850hp) Drayson B12/69 EV, a Le Mans based prototype and equipped the record-breaking vehicle with Qualcomm’s WEVC technology. He signed up to Formula E as a technology advisor at first and he soon became a team owner. However, a surprisingly early exit was announced in June when Drayson handed over the rights to Jarno Trulli. “From a business perspective he wants to become a worldwide motorsport wireless charging expert,” says Barrett. “Drayson and Trulli will be cooperating on wireless charging to put it onto the car in the future.”.
We could see wireless charging technology integrated in the Formula E race cars as soon as the second season when technical rules will allow teams and constructors to make adjustments to the powertrain. “We can expect improvements on batteries, battery management systems, etc.,”, Davison predicts. “That is what Formula E wants: to accelerate EV development. And we found that interesting too.”
Not only from a technological point of view the series could improve electric vehicles, but it could change people’s perception too. “Electric cars aren’t sexy,” Davison says. “But when people start seeing the Formula E cars go round, they will notice electric cars can be quick, exciting to watch and that they are cool.”
Question remains how soon it will be before we are all charging our vehicles without a cable. “I couldn’t imagine in 1985 that there would be 7 billion mobile devices globally in 2014,” Barrett says, pointing out that you can play with the thoughts of the impossible. Another argument for a steep development cycle comes from Davison: “We’re changing phones every year. Car manufacturers have a four to five year cycle when it comes to developing new cars. And concerning EV’s, I think this development cycle is shrinking.”
“Technology is really great when it changes peoples lives,” Davison says. “Formula E is not only about electric cars being fun and fast, it helps to accelerate the adoption of EV’s, bringing a new experience to the people and engaging them in a different way. With wireless charging technology we are addressing to those principles as well: making fun and changing peoples lives.”
Images: Qualcomm and Formula E