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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Qualcomm enters Wireless electric car charging fray

The convergence of communications and transportation took one of its more unusual turns yesterday, as mobile phone giant Qualcomm acquired a small British firm that makes wire-free charging systems for electric vehicles.

San Diego-based Qualcomm did not disclose the price it paid for London-based HaloIPT, which makes “inductive power transfer” pads that charge EVs while they’re stationary. HaloIPT’s trial customers include Rolls Royce, and it provides pads to the UK’s largest EV charing company, Chargemaster.

HaloIPT is also developing “dynamic charging” systems that would charge vehicles as they drive down a highway, using strips embedded in the road’s surface. Last summer it said it would start testing dynamic technology with Britain’s Drayson Racing Technologies.

The company licenses its wireless charging technology from UniServices, a commercial arm of New Zealand’s University of Auckland. UniServices was a previous co-owner of the company, along with engineering firm Arup and Australian venture capital firm Trans-Tasman Commercialization.

Qualcomm is known for making mobile phone chipsets, and is pushing hard into mobile broadband and Internet. It also profits from licensing patented technology related to those products. It recently estimated it will have revenues of between $18 billion and $19 billion in its current fiscal year.

It said in a press release that it acquired “substantially all of the assets and other technology” from HaloIPT.

Qualcomm executive vice president of European Innovation Development Andrew Gilbert said in the release that Qualcomm has been investing in wireless power for a number of years. “The HaloIPT acquisition will further strengthen our technology and patent portfolio,” he said. For the Qualcomm cynics who wonder whether the deal represents settlement of any sort of patent dispute, insiders tell me “no.”

The Qualcomm release says that all members of HaloIPT’s team have joined Gilbert’s group, which is based in the UK. Qualcomm will continue to develop the wireless car charging technology. In addition to Rolls Royce and Chargemaster, HaloIPT is working with San Francisco-based lithium ion battery firm Evida Power.

Qualcomm’s competitors in wireless electric vehicle charging include MIT spin-off WiTricity; German industrial giant Siemens; two smaller German firms Conductix-Wampfler, and VAHLE; and KAIST South Korea’s Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology. Google has also demonstrated the technology.

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