WiTricity Lands Delphi as Wireless Car Charging Partner

MIT spinout WiTricity wants to make charging electric vehicles plug-free — and it has landed auto parts giant Delphi as a partner. The company announced Wednesday that it would work with Delphi on “global infrastructure” for charging cars, simply by parking them on top of wireless charging systems set into garages or parking spots. If it works, it could make EVs and plug-in hybrids a lot more simple to power up.

WiTricity has developed technology for inductive wireless charging using magnetic resonance, an idea first demonstrated by Nicola Tesla in 1891. The Watertown, Mass.-based startup says it has improved on previous versions of the technology that required physical contact, allowing power to be transferred through the air between a charging plate in the ground and a receiver in the car’s chassis — though it still loses efficiency as distance increases.

Wireless charging pads for cellphones and other consumer electronics are out in the market, and Intel (s INTC) has been working on inductive wireless charging for electronic devices for years. But charging cars requires a lot more power to be transferred. Menno Treffers, chairman of the Wireless Power Consortium, has said that wireless charging has been able to transfer about 5 watts of power at efficiency rates of 50 to 70 percent.

But WiTricity claims its system can transfer more than 3,300 watts, enough to fully charge an electric car at the same rate as most residential plug-in chargers. It isn’t alone in the dream of cordless car charging, of course. Nissan told the UK Guardian last year that it was designing inductive charging capabilities into electric vehicles, and Virginia-based startup Evatran promises a wireless charging system with 80 percent efficiency.

A partnership with Delphi could well push WiTricity’s technology past its competitors, if the auto parts giant is able and willing to invest in it. CEO Eric Giler said Wednesday that the partnership hopes to deploy the technology in OEM vehicles and infrastructure projects worldwide. Giler also told a reporter that the company has raised a total of $15.5 million in venture investment, including a series C round earlier this year. Of course, Delphi has had its share of woes — the company declared bankruptcy in 2005 and has struggled amidst the down economy.

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