Future versions of the Prius Plug-in may use a wireless charging technology similar to the system recently implemented by KAIST in the South Korean city of Gumi. Satoshi Ogiso, the managing officer of Toyota Motor Company, recently spoke about the possibility at the 2013 Toyota Hybrid World Tour in Ypsilanti, MI.
“We have been listening very carefully to Prius PHEV owners over the past years and are considering their requests for additional all-electric range,” said Ogiso. “We have also heard from these owners, that they would like a more convenient charging operation. In response, we are developing a new wireless/inductive charging system that produces resonance between an on-floor coil and an onboard coil to recharge the battery without the fuss of a cable.”
Toyota has already begun working on developing such a wireless charging system, and it should begin testing as early as 2014, according to Ogiso. It will be verified in Europe, Japan, and the U.S.
Pictured above is a 2010-2012 Prius plug-in charging by conventional means. If Toyota successfully develops and markets a new wireless charging technology for its hybrid vehicles, customers may no longer have to get out of their vehicles to plug in a cable and charge their vehicles. Credit: Toyota Motor Company.
Wireless charging, also called inductive charging, uses an electromagnetic field in order to transfer electricity from one object to another. For electric vehicles, it works like this: a primary coil, located in the charging pad, induces a current in a secondary coil, which is located in the vehicle. Next, the coil in the vehicle converts the power back to electric current, which can then be used to power its battery.
While inductive charging systems can be more costly to manufacture, and boast lower efficiency rates than charging electric vehicles directly with cables, newer approaches to the technology have managed to increase the cost-effectiveness and the efficiency of the technology. In addition, there are several advantages to wireless charging that help to make it a viable alternative to conventional charging means:
With wireless charging technologies, plug-in owners will no longer have to leave the comfort of their vehicle to charge their car’s battery pack.
Since the electronics in a wireless system are entirely enclosed, there is no possibility that corrosion will occur. In addition, the normal wear and tear that can occur when an object is plugged into a cable repeatedly is entirely eliminated by wireless charging technologies.
Support from Industry
Over the past couple of years, wireless charging technologies for EVs have received increasing attention from the automobile industry. Back in 2009, the Virginia-based company, Evatran, began development of the first hands-free, plug-less, proximity charging station for electric vehicles. Just three years later, Utah State University unveiled a wirelessly-charged bus called the “Aggie Bus.” And finally, in August 2013, the South Korean research institute KAIST introduced two buses that can be charged by “electrified roads” in the city of Gumi.
In addition, various companies will continue to explore the technology in the future. For example, the automobile manufacturer Mitsubishi has begun developing wireless EV technology in partnership with 13 universities and multiple Japanese companies that are invested in establishing viable electric vehicle charging networks across the globe.
This increased support from industry means that new developments will be made in the technology, increasing the technology’s efficiency and driving down its costs.
“To truly have an effect, our industry must develop a diverse array of products that consumers are willing to buy, where the cost premium is low, convenience is high and the benefits to the environment and the pocketbook are clear,” said Ogiso.
Ogiso believes that alternative fuel and advanced technology vehicles have a promising future, although there are certainly challenges that face Toyota and other major automakers: “Fifteen years from now, I believe that plug-in hybrids, battery electrics, and especially hydrogen fuel cells could be as common as hybrids are today,” he said, as part of his closing remarks at the world tour.