Fast Company

Wireless Charging for Electric Cars Is Cool but Totally Unnecessary

Why do we demand things of electric cars that we would never demand of normal ones?

Tesla coil

Do you ever wish that your car was magically filled with gas every morning when you woke up? Do you ever wish that you didn't have to plug in your cell phone at night for it to be charged? Of course! Both those things sound awesome. But their utter lack of existence doesn't stop you from using your car or your cell phone. That's why the announcement that Siemens and BMW are getting into the business of wireless EV charging, via The Engineer, is cool, but frustrating. We constantly damn electric cars with the bigotry of low expectations, thinking users will demand of them all sorts of special features not available in the regular cars they drive every day. Why can't we act like they're the same as a normal car? They're just normal cars with a different fuel source.

Last week, the Siemens-BMW partnership debuted a non-contact charging station at Hannover Messe, a manufacturing fair. There are plans for a trial in Berlin, supported by the government, in two months. To wirelessly charge your EV, you would simply park over a wireless charging station. The station is wired to the grid with a "primary coil" that resides underground. A secondary coil attached to the car receives an electric current induced by the magnetic field caused by the primary coil, and that current would recharge the battery.

The technology is intriguing (though just wait for the cancer studies about wireless power in 30 years–Ed.), and it's good to see giants like Siemens and BMW to become increasingly interested in EVs. But we're a tad skeptical that wireless charging is the way of the future here.

Why do people seem to demand of EVs what they don't demand of traditional cars? Taxi drivers don't clamor for self-refueling cabs today, for instance, yet Siemens boasts that its "inductive energy transmission concept would make it possible to automatically recharge vehicles such as taxis waiting at cab stands." If we demanded half as many things of our traditional cars as EV manufacturers seem to think we demand of EVs, we simply wouldn't drive at all. Could we truly be so lazy that we need a solution to having to plug in a car at the end of the night?

The electric vehicle market won't become robust only once we have vehicles that refuel themselves, that drive themselves, that fly, or travel through time. The EV market will grow when manufacturers make solid, affordable cars with ranges sufficient to get people where they need to go, and charging times comparable to the amount of time it takes to refuel a gas tank. It's almost like the industry simply needs to apply the know-how from years of making cars to...making other cars.

As Kevin Czinger of Coda Automotive once told me, "This is just like a regular car except it doesn’t use an ounce of gasoline. That, to me, is what’s cool. Do I care that it doesn’t look like a spaceship and isn’t beating its chest saying, 'I’m electric, I’m electric'? No."

[Image: Flickr user Caseyyee]

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Read More: Google Headquarters Tests Wireless Electric Vehicle Charging

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4 Comments

  • larry lundstrom

    You might be missing the point a bit. Wireless energy needs to be founded and even if the charging station is just the initial step I am all for it, it's not for convenience it's so we take a huge next step. Before long we will be able to connect to energy from anywhere. Go wireless at any integral possible — the rest of us will jump all over it.

  • Shane Benting

    It's not that we're making new requirements for electric cars; it's that we're looking at ways to leverage the unique properties of electricity to make up for features that are currently delinquent in electric cars.

    Currently, 100 miles is a large range for an electric car, though if you drive around hills or have a lead foot, that range is cut considerably more than it would be in a gas car. The other negative that must be overcome is that the time to recharge is still high. Who would wait even 1 hour to fill their cars with gasoline, while the average electric car owner must wait at least 3 hours?

    At the moment, the only real market for electric cars is commuters who drive less than their chosen car's daily range. They are expected to plug in every night to recharge for the next day's commute. This is a requirement that is not expected for gas cars -- most people want to fill up once every week or two. That's about 15 minutes per 400-600 miles.

    The promise of wireless charging is that it could partially make up for the slow recharge time and small range without requiring people to also plug their car in every night. It still will not expand the market for people who regularly drive longer distances (even if it is only a biannual trip outside the city), but it will make electric cars appear more practical to a larger portion of the public.

  • Melissa Andersen

    I would totally by an electric car if it could charge wirelessly, but having to park it over a special matt plugged into a gird is still a problem. I live in the city with street parking. Not everyone has the convenience of having their own private garage.

    Until electric cars can charge at a rapid pace at a pump-style station like we use to fill up on petrol, I don't see how it's going to go as widespread as we would all like.

  • Dave Lane

    To be honest, I always saw this as a pre-requisite to wide-spread adoption of the car.

    We currently don't plug our cars in every night. Imagine the constant threat of waking up in the morning, rushing to your car cause you're late from work, and all the gas had spilled out -- AGAIN!!

    "WHY didn't I plug the gasoline tank into the wall last night??"

    There will still have to be energy stations, just like gas stations, all around the country for longer trips. But pulling into the garage at night will remain the same, with an added benefit that your car will charge automatically.