Toyota Licenses Wireless Battery Charging Tech from WiTricity
Toyota is getting more serious about wireless charging for its electric cars, and a Boston-area company is benefitting.
The world’s largest car-maker says it is licensing patents from Watertown, MA-based WiTricity, an MIT spinout that has developed technology to recharge batteries without using wires.
The two companies didn’t say how much money the deal is worth, but it’s another sign of Toyota drawing closer to WiTricity and its technology. In 2011, Toyota inked a partnership with WiTricity and invested an undisclosed sum in the company, believed to be in the single-digit millions of dollars.
The new deal envisions Toyota putting the receiving end of a WiTricity-based charging system in its electric and hybrid cars, with outside manufacturers able to sell the other half of the system to car owners.
It’s a major step for WiTricity, whose business is built on licensing its wireless-power technology to as many partners as possible in several industries. “Having the largest car company in the world standardize on your technology is a huge thing,” CEO Eric Giler said. “We’ll pop the champagne corks over here in Watertown.”
WiTricity’s tech is pretty cool: the system runs standard AC power through a special coil, which converts it to a higher frequency and voltage and creates a special type of magnetic field.
A second coil, which resonates at the same frequency, can then safely convert the energy in the magnetic field back into electricity. In terms of cars, this has been employed by having a vehicle park over a charging mat.
Today’s deal is another step toward seeing that wireless power tech emerge for real in electric cars, Giler said. He points to Toyota’s recent announcement that it plans to start testing wireless charging for plug-in Prius hybrids next year in the U.S., Japan, and Europe. WiTricity also has ongoing partnerships with Audi and Mitsubishi.
“In general, the industry believes the inflection point for the adoption of electric cars is 2020. The money’s on that,” he said. “Our belief is that wireless charging of electric cars will start to show up in production models starting in the 2016 model year.”
WiTricity has other big-company investors, too—in October, the company said it had closed a $25 million Series E round from Intel Capital and Foxconn, the well-known Chinese electronics manufacturer. That put the company’s total financing at about $65 million since its founding in 2007.
The pattern from WiTricity’s Toyota deal indicates that more licensing agreements could follow those consumer electronics company investments. Intel, Giler notes, didn’t just buy WiTricity stock for the investment promise: “They want to get it in computers.”