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EV and wireless charging: insights of Qualcomm

27 June 2012

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After announcements to move into wireless charging technology for electric vehicles, U.S. chip maker Qualcomm Inc. presented an all electric Formula-1 style race car prototype in May. talked to Joe Barrett, Senior Director, Marketing, about the chip maker’s ambitions for his move into the EV market. Could you explain to our readers how Qualcomm got involved in the EV sector?

Joe Barrett: Qualcomm is a 26-years old company, with revenue in 2011 of $15 billion and $2.6 billion spent on research and development. We’ve been researching multiple projects in the telecoms space, focusing recently on wireless charging for mobile phones and consumer electronic devices. So we have been looking into wireless power for a while, but we always knew that there was a higher power solution and the opportunity for charging electric vehicles. And so we kicked off a research project and prototypes were developed in our research facility in Zurich. The feedback we received from car manufacturers was very positive. So that’s been the history of our EV design. A common reproach to wireless charging technology is the low efficiency. How much energy loss does Qualcomm's wireless charging technology face as compared to wired charging?

Joe Barrett: As you say, efficiency was fairly low some years ago for any sort of wireless charging, especially if you needed a larger air gap. I think the difference is that electronics have improved and use higher quality materials today. Plus we understand now better some of the various parameters that impact the resonance circuit that is created between the two pads. This enables us to increase the efficiency. We achieve today efficiency of around 90% energy transfer. What is the maximal vertical gap that you can achieve while providing safe and efficient charging? Any risk for domestic pets hiding under the car for example?

Joe Barrett: There are various ride heights from SUV down to compact cars and so the technology will manage and be suitable for all those different ride heights. Also, our system has good tolerance to misalignment. With many systems, the pads have to be accurately aligned to get the maximum energy transfer and be highly efficient. A slight offset means power and efficiency drop. Whereas our design allows the driver to park with a good lateral and even vertical tolerance. We say that is enough to park in a charging bay between the white lines and the charging process will work with around 90% efficiency.

About pets hiding under the car… You have to be able to detect any sort of object. We call it ‘foreign object detection’ - any movement or anything that indicates that something could get between the charging pads suffices to shut down the system immediately. So that’s something that the whole industry understands and needs to work on. On the actual distance though, because now that you can charge different vehicle types, with an SUV the floor space sometimes to the road being anywhere at 20-35 cm, is that a distance you can bridge?

Joe Barrett: We ensure efficient charging with a SUV road height plus the fact that you can bury the pad some centimeters below the surface so that you have nothing visible. But you have indicated that the larger amount of airspace between the two pads would decrease efficiency.

Joe Barrett: Not normally. There is always a trade-off and so if you’ve got a larger gap then the lateral tolerance is lower. If you have a smaller air gap, than you have a higher lateral tolerance. You don’t normally get the best of both worlds. Does wireless charging technology work better with specific battery chemistries? How do you adapt your technology to different battery types?

Joe Barrett: We are providing DC current into the battery management system to charge the battery and so we’re taking information from the battery management system to control the requirements for charging, depending on the requirements of the battery. So the system will work with all battery types. We know that companies such as Daimler, Nissan, Volvo, Toyota, BMW, Rolls Royce, have all invested in wireless charging devices and some of them are trying to integrate the new charging systems into their electric vehicles or plug-in hybrids. Are you already working with some of them? Are there any OEMs that are hesitant to go down this route?

Joe Barrett: All of the OEMs that we’ve spoken to - and we’ve spoken to most of the top 10 more or less, - recognise that wireless charging is the future. Municipalities will want wireless charging because it is less visible in the streets and customers will want wireless charging because it is easy. Fast charging cables and bulky plugs will turn off people especially in Nordic countries with snow and ice around the charging posts. So wireless charging will be a user behavior requirement because it allows drivers to just park the car and that is it – the charging happens without the user needing to plug anything in. What is your business model?

Joe Barrett: Last year we invested $2.9 billion in R&D, around 30% of that is in non-revenue bearing projects, like our EV project. We don’t expect revenue for many years in this area but we have to invest now. We patent our inventions and create a strong, patent portfolio, which afterwards we can license out. When we do this, we will only take a very small percentage of royalties because we want to see an EV mass market. This is the only way that the EV business can become profitable for us and for others. We want to create a competitive market place by ideally having a single standard around which the whole industry collaborates. You recently worked with Rolls Royce. Car companies usually introduce expensive new applications on premium models and then slowly upscale to mass. Do you target premium manufacturers who have less of a price concern first and then roll it out to more mass-market applications?

Joe Barrett: I agree with you that new technology often starts at the top end, but I think the car companies are really looking into how to accelerate the adoption of EVs. And here they see wireless charging as being ideal. I agree that yes probably you will see wireless charging in the majority of the high-end electric vehicles because if you’re spending tens of thousands of euros, 60, 78, even 100 thousand euros on a vehicle you don’t want to plug it in, you want something that’s simple and easy to use. On those high-end models and increasingly on mass-market models you have automatic parking systems for example with cameras in the front and back. Is there an idea to integrate these two systems? You have automatic parking systems that are available now on cars anyway…

Joe Barrett: We’ve taken the view that the mass market is where we want to accelerate the introduction of EVs and for that you’re not going to have complex and expensive automatic parking system. Most of the people just want to drive and park in their own garage or in a charging bay.

Obviously if you want to have accurate parking we can do that, but we think from a behaviour perspective the best solution is to ensure that people can park as they normally do and the charging just happens on its own basically. Would the next step be for you to reach out to infrastructure companies?

Joe Barrett: We’re already talking and working with companies, so we announced last year that there will be a trial in London and one of the partners there is Chargemaster plc. They will be rolling out and installing infrastructure and charging bays around London. Obviously we are talking to other infrastructure companies as well, for licensing our technology.

We think that we’ll see cars coming of the production line 2014-15 with wireless charging integrated. There could be an after-sales market already before then for the retrofit industry. Basically you make it a wireless charging car. Would you recommend OEMs to still have a plug or you surpass that and OEMs will do that anyways?

Joe Barrett: I think we will see both. Plugs will not disappear overnight, they’ll still be there for a little while. Standards are key in plug-in charging, how important is it for WEVC?

Joe Barrett: Standardisation is essential for mass-market adoption of electric vehicles with wireless charging. You cannot have competing wireless charging standards. In the same way that a global single standards for mobile phones has created a huge market, we need a global single standard for wireless charging.

I think one of the unique things that Qualcomm brings to the electric vehicle market and industry is that we’ve been doing that type of standardisation work, in industry bodies, in regulatory bodies and in various forums. We can support the industry in a collaborative effort to create a single standard, which hopefully will be one standard or regionally based standards. Do you see wireless charging technology as one way to circumvent the discussion about different plugs that is going on in Europe?

Joe Barrett: Yes, and I think that car companies understand that different types for wireless charging would cause some headache for the manufacturers as well as for the customers. If you were asked to formulate a global action plan for the rapid introduction of electric vehicles, what would be your top 3 points on the agenda?

Joe Barrett: The first thing is certainly to agree on the above mentioned global wireless charging standard.

Then, we have to work on changing the perception of electric vehicles by consumers. Instead of just charging once at home, there will be multiple opportunities to charge and if it’s wireless it’s easy, so range anxiety will become less of an issue.

Thirdly, the industry needs to understand what the customer really requires from an electric vehicle. Personally, I think customers face less range anxiety than rather cost anxiety. We are focusing too much on the battery and battery technology and I think that’s probably the wrong focus because battery technology has a great investment going into it today around various chemical and technology solutions. But I don’t see batteries coming down in price any time soon, which is what I was hoping for. We may see higher energy densities and smaller packaging, but the cost of the investment to get there is still the same and still too high.

But additionally I think there is also a health and happiness aspect because more EVs equal less emissions (at least inside the cities) and consequently the health of people will improve. It’s an interesting development (wireless charging) and it does raise all sorts of questions with policy-makers. Standardisation is absolutely key, one of the aspects that standardisation will address is safety, technical alignment. Are there any safety concerns around wireless charging?

Joe Barrett: There are around 20 companies investigating various stages of wireless charging in the market today. One of the things that Qualcomm brings to this industry is our experience and strong engineering base. We have around 23.000 employees, a high percentage of those are engineers. One of our strengths is compliance engineering and emissions testing. We’ve done it for mobile phones for years and also for wireless charging for mobile devices, so we’ve already got that expertise. We can look at the system and look at the specifications and the regulations and the various standards that are already around - which there are because we have induction cookers and other types of induction appliances whch are in the market place arleady – so we can bring that expertise and ensure that our systems meet the compliance requirements. Policy-makers are also concerned about costs around transport. There is a big debate at least in the European context including environmental concerns. But let’s just look at the economic concerns for a minute. Most policy-makers are aware that if you go for wireless induction charging, parking base would be the easy way to go. But if you want to go for a trickle charging or charging along stretches of road then quite quickly price tags come up. What would be needed to invest in that new technology – dynamic charging?

Joe Barrett: Dynamic charging is an interesting thing. At the moment we are focused very clearly on stationary charging and getting that rolled out, which is the first phase.

The technology that we have for wireless vehicle charging is based on 20 years of research at the University of Auckland and two professors, Boys and Covic – they started off thinking that dynamic charging would be the requirement and that’s been their vision for 20 years. The technology that we have – with the misalignment tolerance - is ideally suited for dynamic charging because you never drive like a laser in the middle of the lane. So that’s ideal for that. But there’s obviously a cost implication. But if you could potentially reduce some of the cost out of the vehicle, then you can say that that cost could actually be invested into dynamic charging in a certain percentage of highways.

Dynamic charging will come in the longer term – it is at least 5, maybe 10-15 years away still. I would just say, you cannot rule anything out, even if it sounds expensive. I saw the mobile industry in ’85 when everything was very expensive and people still rolled out the networks and we had no vision of an iPhone, iPad, 3,4G, it was not envisioned that everybody would have a mobile phone. Predicting the past is really easy, predicting the future that’s the difficult part. Dynamic charging has a great potential, but it is probably going to take lots of organisations coming together, including governments and Europe to make it happen.



I wonder what the price would be compared to the plug?
added 2012-06-28 12:15:33

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