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Automakers review wireless charging in cars

Posted: 26 Oct 2010     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:wireless  charging  car  magnetic induction 

Inclusion of wireless charging to the digital cockpit in cars is gaining interest among car makers though they are still working through the costs and use cases for wireless charging.

A General Motors executive is chairing the effort to create interoperability standards for the magnetic induction approach. Toyota and Ford managers have also expressed interest in the technology and the standards effort.

"I am motivated by the possibility that wireless charging provides drivers convenience and aesthetics," said John Suh who manages an advanced technology office for GM and chairs the standards group launched in May by the Consumer Electronics Association.

The CEA effort aims to set a baseline for interoperability for chargers using magnetic coupling. One spec will target connections <1cm from coil to coil, another will address a 2-6cm distance.

The group will also try to define power efficiency and standard nomenclature for different technical approaches. The committee will "look at all the technologies that could provide wireless charging—optical, RF and conductive as well as inductive approaches," Suh enumerated, noting that they all provide some benefit.

Wireless charging "is in an advanced engineering stage and out of research" at Ford, said John Schneider, chief engineer, Ford. "We are watching to see if the standards are successful—that's key," but the company has yet to choose a technology, said Schneider.

Car makers are still working through the costs and use cases for wireless charging, given users often keep mobile devices in a pocket or charge gadgets overnight at home.

"Wireless charging has not factored in the top ten [in Toyota's user surveys, rather] it's been one of the bottom features people are willing to pay for," said Jon Bucci, a VP of advanced technology at Toyota. Nevertheless, "our product planners are looking at [wireless charging] deeply," he said.

"The use cases and value is still to be proven," agreed Schneider. Almost as important, he asked "will Apple support it because unless Apple supports it" it won't be used on millions of iPhones and iPods, he said.

Despite the doubts, wireless charging could be the next step in smart phone services and apps car makers are racing to link to their vehicles. Last year, Ford released a set of APIs to link to its car controls smart phone services like Pandora.

"There will be a Toyota announcement along these lines at CEA," said Bucci.

In a CEA keynote, Ford is also expected to announce more details about its future infotainment systems.

The Chevy Volt to be released in November lets users unlock, start and turn on air conditioning or heat remotely from a smart phone. "These sorts of features will roll out across our other vehicles," said Suh.

- Rick Merritt
EE Times

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