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Wireless charging: the true solution to range anxiety?

Published: 01 May 2018

► Charging EVs without wires
► EV charging will become 'splash-and-dash' behaviour
► Coming to spec sheets in around two years

Electric car range, and more specifically battery size, has developed into an arms race for car makers, but the real solution to range anxiety could be in our pockets already. While the rest of the automotive industry waits for incremental cell improvements and the possibility of solid state tech, Qualcomm believes wireless charging – similar to that in modern smartphones –  is the magic bullet for range worries.

Rather than topping up quickly and less frequently, Qualcomm believes EV charging behaviour will become a constant splash-and-dash process, with wireless charging being the ideal way to do it. From garage floors that’ll charge your EV without you lifting a finger, to motorways that can power your car and propel it at the same time, wireless charging opens up a whole new approach to power management. And it might actually work.

What is wireless car charging and how does it work?

If you’ve bought a high-end smartphone in the past few months, you’ll probably be familiar with wireless charging. Just like it sounds, it’s a simple way of putting charge into your phone without the need for cables – and Qualcomm’s Halo technology is essentially a scaled-up version.

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It relies on resonant magnetic induction to transfer energy between a pad on the ground, and another under the floor of a compatible EV. The charging pad is around a metre square, while the car’s receiving pad is enclosed in a smaller, dinner dish-sized device under the car. Once the two are aligned, charging can take place at 3.3kW, 6.6kW or 20kW speeds.

Does it actually work?

Two versions of Qualcomm’s Halo tech are currently fitted to the Formula E Safety Car and Medical car: a constantly developed one on the former, and an early beta version on the latter, just to test the effect of wear and tear.

At last weekend’s ePrix in Paris, CAR magazine was shown just how Qualcomm’s wireless charging system works, and it’s actually pretty simple for the user; a smartphone app complete with intuitive graphics made it easy to align both pads.

It’s worth mentioning here that while we may see the technology in other cars, it’ll probably be contained in OEM apps or infotainment systems wearing the brand of the manufacturer. This Qualcomm demonstration is what’s currently being shown to car makers, and it’d then be customised and reskinned later down the development process.

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After alignment was complete, charging began once the ignition was off. While 20kW isn’t as fast as the ridiculous rapid-charge speeds Porsche, Audi, Tesla and others are quoting, it’s important to remember the use case here is completely different.

Qualcomm’s Halo tech also comes with some built in safety features, so if any foreign objects are located between the charging pads, the system will shut off automatically. At that point, the EV owner would be contacted, and asked to secure the connection.

What’s next for wireless car charging?

Qualcomm is using Formula E to develop and advertise its wireless charging tech, but it’ll be a couple of years before you see Halo on your EV’s spec sheet. Qualcomm licenses the technology instead of manufacturing it, but recent tier two wins mean it should be entering the market via OEMs in around 18 to 24 months from now. Call it the end of the decade...

And after that?

While static wireless charging is the main aim, Qualcomm is already looking to develop the technology further for moving vehicles too – and that’s where things get even more interesting. Dynamic charging, or charging while in motion, is the next step, and could change how we see EV batteries forever.

If a wireless charging infrastructure is able to provide a constant stream of power to an EV, a large battery wouldn’t be needed for most journeys – just a small one for patchier infrastructure. Qualcomm believes quick charging could still be used, though, and the future will probably see a combination of both rapid wired and wireless charging for EV owners.

Dynamic wireless charging tech would probably be easier to implement in urban areas first, so EVs would only need batteries for intercity journeys – where larger quick charging stations are already planned.

We’ll update this article when there are more developments on wireless charging tech in the automotive field.

By Curtis Moldrich

CAR's online editor and racing-sim enthusiast