Wireless Charging: Making the Leap from Gadgets to Cars

Wireless charging: the Palm Pre, electric toothbrushes and artificial hearts have it. But what would it take for the technology, which uses electromagnetic fields to charge devices without a plug, to make the leap from juicing up small, handheld electronics, to recharging electric cars on the go — and how important is the innovation for mass adoption of plug-in vehicles?


Nissan (s NSANY), for one, thinks wireless, or inductive charging for electric vehicles represents more than a Jetsons-esque concept for the future. This week the Japan-based automaker told the UK Guardian that it has already worked wireless charging into the design for its all-electric Zero Emission Vehicle, or ZEV, set to be unveiled early next month with “a unique body style on an all-new vehicle platform” (the model pictured above is a prototype).

As the Guardian reports, cordless charging at compatible charge spots is just the beginning of Nissan’s vision for this technology: Nissan, which last month won $1.6 billion in low-interest loans from the Obama administration to set up manufacturing for EVs and batteries in the U.S., hopes to eventually have electric vehicles charging in transit via “a series of plates laid into the surface of designated lanes on our roads and motorways.”

The goal for Nissan is to ultimately make charging quicker and easier than it is with today’s cords and plugs — components that the auto industry has only begun to standardize. But more than a few¬†hurdles stand in the way, notably time and cost. According to the Guardian,”Nissan admits that it still has no idea on how much it would cost, how long the designated lane would have to be, or how fast the battery could be recharged.”

palm-pre-touchstoneAs James Kendrick over on jkOnTheRun explained last month after the Palm Pre launched with a much-hyped optional wireless charger, the Touchstone (pictured), “There has not been a simpler way to pop a phone onto charge,” but the wireless route ends up taking longer than a regular plugged-in charging. “If you are in a big hurry and need to charge your Pre as quickly as possible then, you should plug it in,” Kendrick writes.

With electric cars, faster charging is one of the keys to making the technology more practical for mainstream consumers, so sacrificing speed for slick design in the charging interface could be a risky bet — even more so if it adds on extra cost, like Palm’s Touchstone does for the Pre and the aftermarket wireless charging system from WildCharge does for the iPhone. But pairing low-cost wireless with fast charging? That could be a winning combo — eventually.