Imagine pulling into your driveway and charging your car by parking on top of a charging system that uses a magnetic-resonance technology and does not require the vehicle to be plugged in.
What seems like a scene out of a science fiction movie, is now being tested by Toyota in Japan in three households with plug-in electric Prius hybrids. The wireless charging technology for plug-in hybrids and pure electric vehicles may be just a couple of years away from domestic use for auto consumers, but the infrastructure will need more time to catch up before it is widespread in commercial facilities, such as parking garages.
Toyota has been working on this technology for several years in cooperation with WiTricity, an MIT spinoff that has relationships with Audi and Mitsubishi, and Volvo is also working on a wireless charging system.
This wireless system could simplify electric vehicle charging by making the process more convenient and straightforward for drivers. It could be a game-changer for electric vehicles by serving as a universal charging station, solving the problem of having multiple plugs for different car models. In addition, it could trim down charging time to a mere 90 minutes for the plug-in hybrid Toyota Prius.
This new technology comes in response to consumer demand. “We have heard from Prius Plug-In Hybrid owners that they would like a more convenient charging operation,” said Managing Officer Satoshi Ogiso. “In response, we are developing a new wireless inductive charging system that produces resonance between an on-floor coil and an onboard coil to recharge the battery without the fuss of a cable.”
For the technology to be effective, several design challenges needed to be addressed. The car and the charging station need to be properly aligned to charge the battery, thus the system includes a parking assist feature that displays the position of the charging coil in relationship to the car. The charging station also needs to be strong enough to withstand being run over by a car without causing electromagnetic interference on nearby equipment.
Toyota's corporate reputation has rebounded quickly from the accelerator recalls that plagued the company a couple of years ago. It is on track to post record earnings for the fiscal year that ends in March. Toyota has now sold more than 6 million hybrid vehicles globally, with 1 million selling in the last nine months.
Although the Prius was initially a gamble for Toyota when it was introduced in 1997, it is now a vital aspect of the Toyota brand. Keeping the Prius innovative is essential for staying on top, particularly as more highly efficient cars and electric vehicles enter the market. This wireless charging technology could do the trick and may be available very soon.
“In general, the industry believes the inflection point for the adoption of electric cars is 2020. The money’s on that,” says Eric Giler, CEO of WiTricity. “Our belief is that wireless charging of electric cars will start to show up in production models starting in the 2016 model year.”
Photo Credit: Toyota
Sarah Lozanova is a regular contributor to environmental and energy publications and websites, including Mother Earth Living, Green Building & Design, Triple Pundit, Urban Farm, and Solar Today. Her experience includes work with small-scale solar energy installations and utility-scale wind farms. She earned an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School and she resides in Belfast Cohousing & Ecovillage in Midcoast Maine with her husband and two children.
Sarah Lozanova is an environmental journalist and copywriter and has worked as a consultant to help large corporations become more sustainable. She is the author of Humane Home: Easy Steps for Sustainable & Green Living, and her renewable energy experience includes residential and commercial solar energy installations. She teaches green business classes to graduate students at Unity College and holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School.