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Thursday, October 21, 2010

Car makers signal interest in wireless EV charging

Car makers are signaling their interest in wireless charging as another piece of the digital cockpit.

In one sign of the road ahead a General Motors executive is chairing a standards effort that hopes to set interoperability standards for the magnetic induction approach. Toyota and Ford managers said they also are interested 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 in Silicon Valley 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 of less than one centimeter from coil to coil, another will address a two to six centimeter distance. The group will meet here Friday.

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--. they all provide some benefit, Suh said.

Wireless charging "is in an advanced engineering stage and out of research" at Ford, said John Schneider, a chief engineer at Ford, speaking on a panel at the annual CEA Industry Forum. "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 scharge gadgets overnight at home.

"Wireless charging has not factored in the top ten [in Toyota's user surveys, raher] it's been one of the bottom features people are willing to pay for," said Jon Bucci, a vice president 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 of Ford. 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 smartphone 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 smartphone services like Pandora.

"There will be a Toyota announcement along these lines at CES," said Bucci of Toyota.
In a CES keynote, Ford is also expected to announce more details about its future infotianment systems.

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

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