Wireless Charging Systems for Electric Cars and Plug-in Hybrids

Scott Benjamin

The Infiniti LE concept (set to become a reality in 2014) includes a wireless charging feature.
The Infiniti LE concept (set to become a reality in 2014) includes a wireless charging feature.
Courtesy of Infiniti

Charging an electric car really isn't all that difficult; but wireless charging could make the process even easier.

I can't help but wonder if some drivers are reluctant to jump on the all-electric or plug-in hybrid bandwagon simply because of the extra effort it takes to connect the car to a charging station each evening? I know that seems a little absurd, but I suppose it's possible. After all, it is an extra step that most people just aren't accustomed to when they roll into the garage every night.

Oh, and if you failed to realize that you forgot to plug the car in until the next morning -- well, that's the kind of mistake that could ruin your whole day, especially if you had somewhere important to go. But there's talk of a much easier method on the horizon.

We've been using wireless chargers (inductive charging) to power up our handheld devices for at least a few years now, so it only makes sense that auto manufacturers would eventually apply that kind of technology -- on a larger scale, of course -- to charge depleted electric car batteries. And while these wireless charging mats aren't immediately available, manufacturers do hope to have the systems ready for home and public use within the next few years.

Obviously, there's a good deal of science happening in there, but here's a streamlined version of how it works: Electricity is emitted from the transmission unit (an electrically charged mat mounted to the ground) to the vehicle's receiver unit (mounted underneath the car) through electromagnetic induction (wireless transmission of energy). The receiver unit passes the electric current on to the car's battery pack until it's fully charged.

An even simpler version: You drive your electric car (or plug-in hybrid) over the charging mat you installed on your garage floor and the system begins charging the car's battery pack as soon as the vehicle is parked. That's it. Simple, right? And there's no added hassle of having to plug and unplug the car each time you intend to use it. Some of these proposed charging systems will even guide the driver into the correct parking position.

Now, as I mentioned, there aren't any wireless charging systems currently available from the auto manufacturers -- but they are in the works. Nissan has been teasing us with a wireless charging system for its all-electric LEAF for a couple of years now, and as of Dec. 2012, Toyota was working on an angular coil system for wireless power transmission.

So do you think we'll see these systems reach production by the end of 2013? Or will it be 2014? Do you think the aftermarket options will be as good as (or maybe better than?) the factory offered wireless charging systems? Let me know what you think.

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