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Researchers developing roads that charge your electric car while you're driving

Lucas Mearian | Oct. 28, 2015
Clemson University is working on its first trials of dynamic wireless charging on roadways.

A stationary wireless charging station created by Clemson University's International Center for Automotive Research (ICAR) in Greenville, S.C. Credit: International Center for Automotive Research

At least two universities are testing or preparing to test wireless charging stations embedded along roadways that will incrementally recharge vehicles as they drive over them.

Clemson University's International Center for Automotive Research (ICAR) in Greenville, S.C., has been testing stationary wireless vehicle charging and is now preparing to test mobile wireless recharging for vehicles.

Clemson's R&D project is backed in part by a multimillion-dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and is in collaboration with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), Toyota, Cisco and other companies.

The university's stationary wireless charging technology uses magnetic resonance to create a field between a ground charging coil and a copper coil embedded in a vehicle through which electricity can pass. Key to the technology is the Wi-Fi communications system, created by researchers at Oak Ridge that allows the ground and vehicle charging systems to talk to one another.

Stationary wireless vehicle charging is an emerging technology already commercialized by Evatran and Bosch. The two companies unveiled their PLUGLESS vehicle charging system at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The PLUGLESS charger is available for the Chevrolet Volt  for $2,998 and the Nissan LEAF for $3,098.

Joachim Taiber, a Clemson professor of electrical and computer engineering, said there's a big difference between commercial wireless vehicle chargers and the ones his research team is testing. The main differences are between the transmission communications systems and the amount of power that can be transferred.

The Clemson ICAR has been able to transfer up to 250 kilowatts (a kilowatt is 1,000 watts).

Along with Cisco, ICAR has developed a Dedicated Short Range Communication (DSRC) technology that can support both stationary wireless charging and in-motion wireless charging with the same system architecture.

Car wireless charging 
An artists rendition of what wireless charging lanes may look like someday. Credit: North Carolina State University

DSRC creates a vastly faster communication link between vehicles or roadway technology than say Wi-Fi, so that communications can be established even as a vehicle passes a wireless charger at high speeds.

Today, the National Highway Safety Administration is considering the DSRC protocol, which operates at 5.9 GHz, for mandatory use in vehicle-to-vehicle communication for crash avoidance. Essentially, cars will detect other cars or infrastructure with DSRC modules and automatically avoid a collision.

If every car were mandated to have the modules, a massive market could be created for using the communications protocol not only for crash avoidance, but also wireless charging, Taiber said.


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