Could this be the breakthrough electric vehicles need?

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October 17, 2009

By Bob Difley

GM Design Team Wins Award at Los Angeles Auto ShowCan anyone deny that the world is entering potentially one of the most disruptive periods of change in the transportation sector since the internal combustion engine was invented over 100 years ago? The activity surrounding and driving alternative energy vehicle development–hybrid electric, plug-in hybrid electric, or all electric (EV)–produces news stories everyday with words like newer, better, larger, smaller, more efficient, and breakthrough in the headlines.

Auto manufacturers and venture capitalists are pouring money into technological advancement of vehicles, batteries, EV  technology, charging systems, and infrastructure.  Garage entrepreneurs and small cap tech companies are scrambling to grab a piece of what could be a very enormous pie, especially when the pie expands to include pick-up truck, delivery truck, RV, and bus size vehicles.

In a step closer to realizing these goals, now IAV Automotive Engineering, a German company with facilities in Michigan, has acquired a patent for their Star Trekie EV wireless road charging system, that magically beams energy to your EV. The technology requires installing electrical conductors into roads that would generate magnetic fields which would charge an EV’s battery as it drives. RFID tags would identify your EV and bill you for the amount of energy used.

This could be a game changer–if it works–and a disaster for all the companies scrambling to establish battery charging and swapping station infrastructures, such as Shai Agassi’s company Better Place. The IAV electric car charging system would not only eliminate range anxiety–one of the biggest hurdles for the EV industry–but the whole system is also resistant to weather and mechanical wear, and has the ability to charge vehicles traveling at high speeds on major highways and freeways as well as while parked.

So far, IAV’s testing shows an impressive 90% efficiency of energy transfer between conductors and vehicles. And to add one more efficiency plus to the system, the conductors have sensors that detect when a vehicle is near so they only operate when necessary. IAV expects that this technology will be commercially available within just three years.

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  1. Vegas Dan – The plan is to have the cars charge overnight–a timer would start the charging–when the house is down and nightime demand from utilities is low. Estimates are that in CA the present system could handle 4 million electric cars without any changes. As demand for EVs increases, utilities will be able to project if and how much additional capacity would be needed.

  2. Vegasdan

    The latest news on the “plug in” EVs came out recently. It’s not good. It seems as though to charge up one EV it takes as much energy as would to power 1 to 3 homes. Now, people who will drive these things generally will live in the same areas, Berkeley, CA-yes, Butte, Mt.-no. So you will have several of these EVs coming home every day and plugging in in the same neighborhood. The power grid in that area will not be up to the task of suddenly needing 2 to 4 times the normal load. Brown outs and Black outs. Happy trails.

  3. I have an answer for you, GMAs. “..ask yourself this question.. do you trust computers with your life???”

    You already do, every time you fly or ride the train. Computers control every aspect of that trip except for the take off and landing. Even then, more often than not in the newer planes(trains), the computer does that, too, with the pilot (driver) merely riding the controls in the event of an error. It won’t be that long before the pilot is no longer needed.

    A more important point is that an embedded system in the roads can reduce accidents (as long as the passengers keep their hands off the wheel) and potentially eliminate most congestion issues by adapting the speeds of vehicles to current road condition and eliminating the disruptive lane changes and sudden braking caused by aggressive, dangerous maneuvers in manually driven vehicles. I’m sure most of us have heard of Terrain-Following-Radar that’s been around on US-built aircraft for over 40 years now, but how many know that most of the accidents experienced by these planes were caused by the pilot panicking when he thought the plane was going to run into a mountainside? In almost every case, black-box records showed that the computer had already triggered the proper avoidance maneuver when the pilot overrode the system and crashed the plane. The only way to avoid this in a car is to prevent manual override on controlled roads, something most people (like Craig, above) won’t permit.

    What some of you may not be aware of is that a fleet of buses is undergoing real-world testing outside of Washington, DC that contain no batteries and no internal-combustion engine. They are recharged in seconds at each and every bus stop they service by an underground inductive charging system. This kind of system could be rigged into any city street right beside (or behind?) the sensors used to monitor and control traffic flow already. Highways could use a similar system by either using mile-long charging strips every 20 miles or so or by providing more frequent rest stops with drive-through convenience store/charging stations. After all, who hasn’t wanted to stop for a soda or coffee on a long trip and just haven’t bothered because you didn’t need gas and didn’t want to stop?

    Finally, consider this. If conditions continue to worsen to the point where private vehicles become impossible to maintain and control in an urban environment, Robert A. Heinlein’s vision of ‘high-speed walkways’ as presented in “The Roads Must Roll” may become a reality.

  4. Liz Bard

    I have friends who are blind and either use canes or seing eye dogs. Both groups complain about the hybrid cars that use electricity and gas because they are too silent and it is hard to tell if it is safe to cross the street.Even the dogs get freaked out sometimes if someone comes too close and they are trying to see what kind of threat it is for his owner. Someone needs to come up with sme kind of sound so they know when it is safe or when to wait for the cars passing.

  5. bruce

    As GMAs said, the efficiency isn’t there. Where does the electricity come from? Coil, natural gas and oil in this country mostly. The efficiency of power plants is not much greater, if at all, than the engines in cars and the transmission (of the electricity to power these mag fields) losses would be huge. Of course, there are “transmission” losses in moving fuel around too. The only advantage to running off electricity is that the byproducts are centralized at the power plant instead of at every vehicle. But, unless nuclear, solar and wind is ramped WAY up we won’t be saving non-renewables with this method.

  6. Tireman9

    I think the breakthrough will when systems are developed to allow Solar and Wind to be converted to electricity which in turn is used to re-charge batteries in an electric car.
    The problem with our current systems is that Wind and Solar are not constant so we really need a more efficient and lower cost method of storing the energy.
    Every time you convert from one storage medium to another you lose power. We also have an electric generation and grid distribution system that simply could not handle large numbers of electric cars all needing power.
    Ideally local neighborhood, or home Wind & Solar energy systems would provide power at the local level, thereby avoiding the Power grid problems.
    Since electric cars need batteries, you could eliminate the need for a set of batteries used simply to store power generated by wind and solar during their peak generation times and use the car set.
    The side benefit of Solar and Wind is they are renewable and don’t bring up the carbon questions while simply switching from oil to coal generated electricity just changes the location of the pollution.

  7. Dave West

    Interesting article, but as one gentlemen said above… :it was all written years ago in a Popular Mechanics magazine (many times). What irks me… “IS” (doesn’t depend on Bill Clinton’s version of what “is-IS”), but that major international oil companies have led us (US and the world) down the path of becoming totally dependent on the combustion engine when in fact we should have arrived at this “pipe dream” a long time ago. Their lobbyists have brought the world to the abyss, and am sure they’ve figured-out how to control whatever becomes the accepted technological vehicles of the future. Greedy bastards!!!

  8. Tom Hargreaves

    I’ve gotta make a comment on GMAs’ rantings. Regarding computers and trust: Thousands of pilots and millions of passengers trust their lives to computers every second of every day; for example, the Airbus aircraft are computer “fly-by-wire” and they have been flying for decades. Furthermore, F-16 and F/A-18 fighters have been computer “fly-by-wire” since the late 1970’s, and the pilots trust the computers at night, at 500 mph, at 500 feet, and under the weather. Computers and software are quite capable of being extremely reliable, but they have to be made by companies that aren’t making things “just good enough” to sell. You bet I’ll trust my butt to a reliable computer, I have knowingly done so every time I’ve flown in an Airbus aircraft, in fact, in a small way I do so when I drive my diesel E-350 down the road with 9000 pounds of trailer behind me because the accelerator pedal is electronically connected to the fuel control computer, and the brake controller computer controls the trailer brakes.

  9. Nodonutz

    Technological development is great. And at some point it will be a piece of the overall infrastructure, a very small piece…..
    A few of the issues I see are:
    1) Cost – Tearing up roadways and installing power grid
    2) I’m sure those w/pacemakers and other electrical devices would be a bit nervous
    3) So, the fallicy of going”green” — where does all the raw material for the batteries/magnets come from? Oh, they are mined and processed in various countries. So, taking the adverse effects of the production, and transportation of these materials, the “Green” aspect is a Charade……
    4) Cost of the vehicles – what you can’t afford an expensive new vehicle w/ an expensive new technology??
    5) Unions — What you don’t think they’re going to want to grab a piece of the pie and stall whatever action they feel robs them of their power/influence?? Hence, elevating costs and dragging projects out longer.
    6) The Gov’t is going broke w/ the current proposals on the table, so you think there will be Federal/State $$ to pay for this enorous undertaking,…… Rrright
    7) Time frame ’til this is commercially/financially viable?? Until then……

    Keep dreaming, push new technologies and increase drilling and give me DIESEL!!!

    Just my humble $.02 worth — ND

  10. Thomas Becher

    I’d love a car that would go 50-60 mph ( I live out of town) and go 30-40 mile on a charge that doesn’t cost a fortune. It will come, probably not in my lifetime, but at least there are people out there taking a risk with their money that will produce a product that is needed to help our world. I would love to travel without having to watch the traffic and just be able to see the scenery. I know, it’s called being a passenger instead of the driver. In this household it doesn’t work that way, as my wife doesn’t drive. Naysayers–I always say, my grandchilderns jobs haven’t been invented yet.
    For those who care,the Chinese are marketing a two passenger ELECTRIC plane that has a 250-300 mile range. If I had a license, I’d buy one.

  11. GMAs

    Oh and one more ting… I can see fido with the metal dog collar trying to cross the street… now the metal collar can do one of two things..

    One it can pick up the inductance and fido gets a zap that makes him shiver and pea/(well you know) uncontrollably… on one of the magnetic spots .. not being able to move until some EV comes along and scrapes him off the asphalt… bye bye fido…

    And /or the dog collar he and fluffy are wearing gets stuck to the magnetics again… some many just stick around till again a EV (driverless vehicle comes along and .. well… fido and fluffy are not called FILL… with that little tinkling bell sound comeing from under the car…as it goes down the road… I don’t know if the PETA (People Eating Tasty Animals) group will go for that and… the insurance company will call it road hazzard…

    But now if like in San Francisco… spike walks across the street and his metal parts get stuck to the maglev spots… well maybe on second though it might be a good thing to try out over their… grin…

    Besides… if the computer drives…what will you do… no more need for hubby and everything will be artifical (ahummm) stimulation rendering more stress because you will be in the back seat… going Oh MY..#@$*& while your doing 80 mph 2 feet from the vehicle in front of you…..ask yourself this question.. do you trust computers with your life???

    and one other thing I kinda am wondering about.. when a car or vehicle is not over one of these so call magic inductions systems… how much power do they give off… can you take a wire wound plate out .. drop it on the module.. and power your house for free off of it? What about hysterrises losses… and power waist…

    Again the effecency over the gas engine just isn’t their.. folks…

    I know Bob.. get a long extension cord and hook it up to your car… that way you can drive around all day and not have to recharge… and just think… you will never be lost either… now thats a idea… 😉 😉

  12. GMAs

    Awwww Bob.. give it a rest man…

    First off its someones dream mach.. and will be like the dream in the 50’s… as not only do you have to tear up the roads.. but when one replaces them every 7 to 10 years… oh ya… what be the cost?

    Now your going to do what with magnetics… think the world might go along with that.. nope… I can see it now.. it “HARMS THE EARTHS MAGNETIC FIELD AND SO THE GREENIES WILL BE SHUT’N IT DOWN)

    And what about the terrorist that can dink with the computer.. causing all kinds of accidents… think micorsoft is going to risk their profits to help move you down the road…

    Like the rest of your mr. magoos/toads wild rides this one adds to the adventure… LOLL and is only allowed at disneyland.

    Like microsofts unvailing of the new program that was supposed to be un hackable… the security in business.. when old bobble open the screen up some hacker had put on the computer.. Microsoft NT… NT stands for NICE TRY…

    Well NT their Bob… NEXT…

  13. Craig Powell

    Sounds boring as hell to me. Who wants some computer driving for them. Just another way for the government to control what we do.

  14. Tom Hargreaves

    It’s about time! If we had started/continued the research in the late seventies and early eighties and looking forward as we should have, instead of simply concentrating on short-term profits, we wouldn’t be in this pickle. And yes, many people did foresee our problems, and as I recall, for a short time, there were some incentives available to develop alternative energy forms, but they expired and were not renewed. It is a good thing that there are a few people who aren’t running around with their head in the sand (now THAT’s a good trick) denying that everything that is uncomfortable to think about is just some vast conspiracy. I’m enjoying my TT and my diesel TV, but I’m looking forward to the day when I can still get where I want to camp but use fewer non-renewable resources getting there. It ain’t gonna happen tomorrow morning at 8 o’clock, but gradually we will wean ourselves off the dinosaur fuels.

  15. John Hinbest

    At work today we discused what of our old electric cars we will rebuild and witch ones will be scraped for new Bombadair low floors. After thirty year on the street they are getting rusty.

  16. Interesting thoughts across the board. I’d like to respond to the three comments ahead of me.

    Ed. I can’t argue with you. However, why wouldn’t it be possible to have enough battery storage (or fuel cell or whatever) to handle those more remote locations. I honestly don’t believe anyone will accept a 40-mile limit on electric cars when we’re all used to a minimum of 300 miles per tankful of gas. And unless you’re concentrating on primitive conditions without hookups, you should be able to get a recharge at the campground.

    Darthvagrant: One possibility in this case would be that by tearing up the roads to add the electrical circuitry, you’re forced to re-build the road as well… maybe even as good as they originally were when they used concrete instead of asphalt for the surface.

    Alpenliter: Look again. A five-mile stretch of the freeway project on the outskirts of DC was specially equipped to test exactly this concept and demonstrated that the cars could run less than a car-length apart while the driver was reading a newspaper, not even able to see the controls or the highway in front of them. The video showed four cars driving at highway speed in this test.

    The technology is coming along. Circumstances have finally forced governments
    to study options. Maybe full adoption is still some years away, but the concepts are being proven today. It’s only a matter of time, now.

  17. I remember reading a Popular Science magazine in the 50s that predicted cars following strips embedded in the highways that would control the speed, and take them to their destination without having to steer the vehicle. It predicted this to be “in the future” around 1980. Still waiting for that one!

  18. Darthvagrant

    In two words: PIPE DREAM
    Suuuure we’re going to tear up tens of thousands of miles of roads we can’t even afford to properly maintain to (QUOTE)” install electrical conductors into roads”

  19. Ed Nickerson

    This is fine but my wife and I don’t enjoy camping right off the hiway and I don’t think we will see millions of miles equipped this way any time soon.