WiTricity owns the much-coveted patent for magnetic resonance technology, a benchmark in wirelessly charging electric vehicles. Its acquisition of Qualcomm Halo, along with the latter’s 1500 separate patents regarding wireless charging, would allow the company to control the market and introduce standardization into the product.
As we continue to embrace a more perpetual relationship with portable electrical and electronic devices, there is a growing expectation for such devices to function at all times without any interruption.
The advent of batteries that last longer is one of the ways this problem is being addressed at present. However, these devices still require frequent charging through wires plugged into electrical outlets or power banks, a manual task that seems so archaic in today’s digital age.
Thankfully, technological advancements have led to the development of wireless charging, which not only eliminates the need for physical connectors and cables but also provides a reliable, efficient, and convenient method to charge the battery located inside our multiple portable devices.
The push to integrate wireless charging in portable devices such as smartphones, laptops, and wearable electronics have gained massive momentum in recent months.
However, there is a growing requirement to incorporate wireless charging in Electronic Vehicles (EV’s), as it would mitigate their current drawbacks of short driving range and the need to search and find charging stations on long drives. The growing awareness concerning the reduction of greenhouse gas emission to slow down global warming has witnessed the increasing adoption of EV’s and hybrid vehicles in developed countries.
However, their limitations certainly thwart mass adoption that would not only lower commercial prices but also help the environment.
The first incidence of wireless charging in commercial EV
In 2018, European car manufacturing giant BMW announced that wireless charging will be made available as an option in order to charge the high-voltage battery present inside their EV’s.
The company scaled up the most ubiquitous technology that facilitates wireless charging in electronic devices, inductive charging. It uses an electromagnetic field to transfer energy from the transmitter to the receiver through electromagnetic induction. BMW rolled out an inductive charging station called GroundPad that was fitted with an integrated primary coil.
The station could be installed in a garage or also outdoors. A secondary coil was integrated on the underside of the EV. An alternating magnetic field is generated between the two coils, through which electricity is transmitted without cables or contacts at a charge rate of up to 3.2 kW.
American wireless charging developers
In the United States, the chip manufacturing giants Qualcomm started a subsidiary called Qualcomm Halo in 2012, following the company’s acquisition of HaloIPT a year before. They were instrumental in developing several supplementary patents concerning wireless charging.
Their technology, however, was the same old scaled-up version of inductive charging that was incorporated by BMW. Qualcomm also has demonstrated its “dynamic charging” on test tracks — electric cars of the future could be capable of charging as they move. For now, though, wireless charging for EVs is limited to stationary “parked” solutions.
However, the inductive charging used by Qualcomm and BMW has several limitations. They are inefficient, costly, and can operate at only a short distance. Wireless charging for EV’s was in a serious need for a technological breakthrough.
After a team from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) patented a magnetic resonance technology that enables efficient wireless charging, WiTricity was founded in 2007 to commercialize it. The technology is dubbed “highly resonant wireless power transfer”, which couples the magnetic fields of two devices with closely matched resonant frequencies into a single continuous magnetic field. It enables power transfer from one device (transmitter) to the other one (emitter).
It’s shown to possess high efficiency and is operational over a distance that’s useful for real-world applications. It’s no wonder that WiTricity’s design, which operates at 90-93% efficiency and transfers power at 3.6-11kW, has become the most sought after wireless charging technology for EV manufacturers.
WiTricity’s acquisition of Qualcomm Halo
In February 2015, Qualcomm made the decision to divest Qualcomm Halo to WiTricity, along with 1,500 different wireless charging patents and patent applications. The move is a blessing for the wireless charging market, as it allows MIT led WiTricity to hold all the cards and standardize the product instead of developing two inefficient versions of it. A charging solution that frees drivers from worrying about where their next charge is coming from could impact EV uptake more than any other factor.
The drive to develop effective and efficient wireless charging for EV is part of a big picture that’s pushing wireless charging for all electronic devices. The shift from wire-based charging stations is imminent in the near future, driven by the advent of wireless charging. According to the latest report by Allied Market Research, the global wireless charging market is set to grow at a mammoth CAGR of 38.7% from 2018 to 2025.
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