GM Bets on Powermat for Wireless Charging in Cars

GM will be offering wireless charging in some of its cars — including its electric Volt — via startup Powermat, the automaker said at CES Thursday morning. GM’s venture arm will also make one of its rare investments, at $5 million, into Powermat. You can bet Volt owners will be interested in wireless charging — it’s an early adopter power tech match made in heaven.

The GM-specific Powermat wireless charging solution won’t be out for another 18 months or so, but the idea is that drivers and passengers can charge their cell phones and gadgets wirelessly when they enter the car, and won’t have to use cords to juice up. However, because Powermat uses inductive charging, consumers will still need to place their devices on a “shelf” or “mat” in the car.

Wireless power has perpetually been overhyped and has under-delivered for years, but in recent months, some of the first instances of wireless power have started to fall into consumers’ hands (GigaOM Pro, subscription required). According to a report from the researchers at In-Stat in October, close to half of consumers surveyed are willing to pay around $50 for the ability to use wireless power. Partly as a result of that high(ish) price point, the market could grow into a $4.3 billion revenue industry by 2014, according to In-Stat.

As Stacey points out in her GigaOM Pro article, there are two types of inductive wireless power: One being promoted by the Wireless Power Consortium, now going by the logo Qi, relies on delivering power through magnetic contacts between the device that needs power and a charging mat. The other, promoted by Intel (s intc) and WiTricity, relies on magnetic resonance and may one day transfer power without requiring device contact, although it still needs an electrical connection from a wall outlet or a battery.

Powermat has been ahead of the pack in terms of offering wireless charging products. Back in late 2009, Powermat started selling a mat for wireless charging cell phones and devices. See our video review of the technology below. Powermat also announced a partnership with Qualcomm (s qcom) at CES this morning.


Wireless charging could also one day have a big effect on electric car charging, although GM didn’t address this market in its announcement this morning. A lot of auto makers and startups are eying the EV wireless charging space. WiTricity landed a deal with auto parts giant Delphi late last year, and startup Evatran unveiled its “Plugless Power” electric vehicle charger — which will eventually use “proximity charging” technology to charge up electric vehicles — last summer. At one point, EV leader Nissan was taking a serious look at wireless EV charging, too.

GM has enough interest in in-vehicle wireless charging that it’s also made a $5 million investment into Powermat. That’s probably a pretty small slice of the firm; GM Ventures tends to make investments more to act as branding support of a partner, than as a financial play. GM launched a $100 million fund this summer, looking to invest in auto plays, and has also expressed interest in car sharing.

For more research on electric cars check out GigaOM Pro (subscription required):

Image courtesy of Powermat.