Qualcomm Sees Licensing Model in Wireless EV Charging Technology

5/15/12Follow @bvbigelow

Qualcomm (NASDAQ: QCOM) plans to use its well-established model in technology licensing as it advances innovations in wireless charging of electric vehicles (EVs), smartphones, and other devices, according to Qualcomm’s top European executive, Andrew Gilbert.

The San Diego wireless giant, which announced the formation of a wireless charging standards organization with Samsung last week, also remains on track to demonstrate its new charging technology for electric vehicles (EVs) in London this year, Gilbert said. The San Diego wireless technologies giant announced its plans to showcase the new technology with as many as 50 battery-powered taxis in November, shortly after acquiring HaloIPT, the startup developing the technology.

PM David Cameron (left) and Andrew Gilbert

Gilbert came through San Diego accompanied by a deep-green, all-electric Le Mans prototype racer that England’s Drayson Racing Technologies unveiled in London a few months ago. The Lola-Drayson B12/69 EV, which replaced a 5.5-liter Judd engine with a pure electric drive on a standard Le Mans chassis, is projected to reach speeds of 200 mph, and was designed for pit stop recharging with the HaloIPT charging system.

The Drayson racecar traveled thousands of miles to get to San Diego, but Drayson has not conducted any road tests with the vehicle yet. Gilbert said Drayson plans to begin testing its EV racer in coming months as part of a broader campaign to get the International Automobile Federation to sanction an EV competition—perhaps as soon as the souped-up EVs can race for more than 15 minutes before recharging.

During his San Diego pit stop, Gilbert also noted that Qualcomm and Samsung announced the formation of the Alliance for Wireless Power (A4WP) last week during the CTIA conference in New Orleans. As Gilbert noted, wireless electricity transmission has been around since the days of Nikola Tesla (1856-1943) and there may be as many as 20 other companies developing wireless charging technologies. The alliance plans to focus initially on wireless charging technology for devices, but the group expects to gradually draw in members from the automotive sector as well.

Qualcomm has been working in the transportation sector since the company began, mostly in telematics, and continues to provide “silicon and software” for content streaming, navigation services, and related technologies, including GM’s OnStar service. “We work directly or indirectly with just about everybody,” Gilbert said, primarily through Tier 1 suppliers like Germany’s Peiker Acustic.

Gilbert says there are no rival standard-setting organizations, or advocates for a competing wireless recharging standard. Still, Qualcomm has a lot of experience—both good and bad—in adopting new technical standards, and the company undoubtedly wants to get out front to ensure its wireless charging technology is included in any new standards that are adopted.

Gilbert also noted that while many investors are focused on Qualcomm’s chip business, the company generates more than a third of its revenue from royalty payments generated by its licensing agreements with some 230 companies. In fiscal 2011, for example, generated $5.4 billion out of almost $15 billion in total revenue.

As with its Qualcomm Technology Licensing division, Gilbert said, “We’re very focused on the end-to-end success of a new technology being adopted. [Technology licensing] is exactly the same model we’ll be applying to the wireless charging business, because a complex and long ecosystem of work needs to be done. It will require [wireless] spectrum. It will require regulatory support. It will require a single standard, and so on and so forth.”

Some of the issues will become more apparent as Qualcomm and HaloIPT move forward this year with their plan to deploy wireless recharging stations and compatible EVs in London.

There are at least four key areas to explore in terms of setting standards, according to Anthony Thomson, a Qualcomm vice president (and the founding CEO of HaloIPT) who accompanied Gilbert to San Diego:

—Frequency. Thomson says charging systems typically operate at frequencies that range from 10 kilohertz to 150 kilohertz. It’s obviously impractical for different EV models to require different frequencies to recharge.

—Receiver location. Inductive power transfer transmits energy from an electromagnet in a mat or pad on the ground (or mounted on a wall) to a receiver in the EV. The location of the receiver on the car needs to be standardized, though, so the power transmitter and receiver can be aligned. Qualcomm maintains that its HaloIPT technology provides significantly greater lateral leeway in this alignment.

Anthony Thomson

—Communication systems. The charging system communicates extensively with both the EV and the power grid, which necessitates standards for the myriad systems that communicate from the charger to the car controller, battery management system, user interface, and other modules.

—The size and shape of the charging pad itself.

Gilbert said the innovations that differentiate Qualcomm’s HaloIPT system from other wireless charging technologies lie primarily with its lateral tolerance in aligning the charging system with the car—and with the high efficiency of its power transfer technology. A Rolls Royce EV prototype system operates with an end-to-end energy transfer efficiency of better than 90 percent, Gilbert said. Thomson added that the design of the electromagnet in HaloIPT’s charging system also is unique, and the company holds many other patents as well.

As Gilbert and Thomson explained all this, however, it also became apparent that their technology is competing not only with other wireless recharging technologies, but with conventional plug-in EV charging systems that also are being deployed—and in greater numbers.

While there is no difference in charging time between a wireless and plug-in EV charging system, Gilbert acknowledged that today’s plug-in systems are significantly less expensive.

“Wireless is always more expensive than wired,” he said. “It’s always harder to make something go wireless. There’s more technology. There are more components. It’s just harder. Nevertheless, I don’t know that it’s going to be an order of magnitude more expensive than cable [plug-in] systems.”

So how is wireless charging technology supposed to gain inroads in a world of plug-in systems?

“There will be a long period of time where you’ll want to have both,” Gilbert said. “It would get introduced on the high-end cars as an option, where there’s little resistance [to pricing] and people might say I’d rather not handle the cable, I’d rather take a wireless option. You’re going to start seeing it in some enthusiasts who really like the technology. You’re going to see it in niches. We’re already seeing it deployed in buses in Italy. You might well see it deployed in taxis, where it makes a lot of sense where they have to wait and be ready to roll.”

“Then, as those prices come down and the infrastructure starts to get built out, I think you’ll start to see mass adoption.”

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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