WiTricity Charges Up For Electric Vehicle Market
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his planned Bonn demos to me last Friday when I visited his offices on the second floor of an out-of-the-way brick office building in Watertown, MA—after a tour of two demo rooms showing WiTricity’s technology wirelessly powering up a laptop, a TV, a handheld flashlight, and various cell phones and PDAs.
Giler still thinks consumer electronics will be the first big market for WiTricity, which plans to sell its technology to a range of OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers). But EV charging offers another potentially huge, shall we say, avenue of growth for the firm. And although Giler thinks it is still some five years off, he wants to start working soon with manufacturers to be ready when EVs hit the road in a big way (after all, they’ll have to install capture coils in cars for the system to work). “You gotta be making that investment now,” he says.
So here’s what he’s going to do today. He’ll start with a PowerPoint, the first slide of which—”Electric Cars are BEAUTIFUL”—shows an array of sleek electric cars. The next slide depicts cars in the charging process, cords sprawling across driveways or parking lots. “But are charging cords…?” it asks.
Slide three poses a series of bullet-point questions, such as: Will I forget to plug in? Am I physically capable of plugging in? Do I want to plug-in, in bad weather? Do I want to get my hands & clothes dirty? Do I want my sleek EV to have an ugly extension cord?
The rest of the presentation lays out WiTricity’s history and technology, as well as the history of EV charging. At the end, Giler will demonstrate the company’s two proposed solutions to the EV charging question live. For the first, two coils—the power source and capture coil—will be shown in free space, housed in plastic containers. Each coil will be 30 centimeters in diameter, and they will be set 30 centimeters (about a foot) apart—simulating the charging unit in a garage or parking lot wall and the receiving coil in the bumper of a car. At the flick of a switch, Giler will show on a power meter how electric power is transferred between them.On the other side of the stage, another transmission coil will be sitting on a pedestal (so the audience can see it), with a receiving coil about six inches away. This is designed to simulate the second use case: driving over a mat in a garage and charging from underneath the car, with the capture coil mounted under the vehicle instead of in its bumper. One of the big questions in such a case is whether a car’s metal undercarriage will disrupt the magnetic field, interfering with charging–so Giler and Schatz will place a piece of steel around the capture coil. Then they plan to light up a 100-watt electric light bulb near the capture coil wirelessly to show the steel has no effect on the transmission.
WiTricity director of business development & marketing David Schatz, who will accompany Giler on the trip, says the second scenario is likely to appeal to Americans, many of whom have garages. But in a place like Japan, most people don’t have home garages and think more about charging in a parking lot or institutional setting, in which case a front-charging system might be the way to go. Either way, people will want something that fits with how they use their conventional cars today: “They want vehicles that are inexpensive to drive, reliable, and that they don’t have to do much more with that then are used to doing: drive them in, park them,” he says.
Tomorrow’s demos are a first step in that direction—but a real world prototype is planned. “We’ll be doing this on a vehicle before the end of the year,” says Giler. Car makers and consumers alike ought to get a charge out of that.
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Founded: November 2007
CEO: Eric Giler
Founder/technical visionary: Marin Soljačić, MIT assistant professor of physics
Funding: $4.5 million Series A round led by Stata Venture Partners and Argonaut Private Equity closed in April 2008. Series B round planned in 2009
Employees: 15 (June 2009), including 6 PhDs
Patents: 40 applications filed, a few hundred planned by end of 2009