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Inventor Says New Wireless E.V. Charger Is Safer and Cheaper

Researchers at the University of British Columbia have developed a wireless charger for electric vehicles that they say is safer and cheaper than other wireless chargers.

One of the least-favorite features on an electric car is the battery-charging cord: No one likes having to remember to plug in the car every evening. And fumbling around with the power cord each time gets old fast.

Auto industry marketing experts generally agree that wireless battery charging is perhaps de rigueur for Americans to garage electric vehicles in significant numbers. In response, several companies, including Delphi, Infiniti/Nissan, Qualcomm, Plugless Power, Rolls-Royce and WiTricity, have either developed or tested wireless technology that only requires drivers of electric vehicles to park above a pad in a garage floor or parking space to power up.

Those systems rely on a method called electromagnetic induction. Using radio-wave induction, a varying electric current in a transmitter coil of conducting wire in the road bed produces a similarly varying current in a receiver coil sitting just above in the vehicle. Think of an electric toothbrush. Or a transformer. The transmitted electrical power then feeds into the battery and recharges it. Some proposals talk about rechargers buried in the roads themselves, which brings visions of full-size slotless slot cars.

But electromagnetic induction technology is not considered by all to be absolutely ideal, because it can release stray radio waves or heat up nearby metal objects unless it is engineered correctly — two issues that can elicit perceived safety concerns. But the industry insists the wireless power-transfer technology is completely safe.

“Our technology is fully safe,” says David Schatz, vice president of sales and business development at WiTricity, a leading maker of e-car recharging equipment in Watertown, Mass. “We crossed that threshold two years ago in certifying that to the satisfaction of the carmakers,” which must contend with any potential legal liability issues beforehand. “The codes and standards are being written now,” he said.

In the meantime, researchers at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver have developed an alternative way to wirelessly charge electric cars and trucks.


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