Toyota Teams Up With WiTricity for Wireless Car Charging

Wireless charging is an appealing concept for many of us who loathe the sight of messy power cords or the need to find outlets in public spaces. Carmakers like the idea, too. Toyota (s tm) announced Wednesday it has invested in WiTricity and signed a technology development with the startup as well.

The agreement is the first announced partnership with a car maker for WiTricity, and the undisclosed investment will help the company launch its technology into the marketplace, said David Schatz, director of business development and marketing at WiTricity. WiTricity, founded in 2007 as a MIT spinoff, expects to see cars and charging equipment embedded with its technology in two or three years, Schatz said. Last September, WiTricity CEO, Eric Giler, said the company had raised $15.5 million since its inception.

“Carmakers are introducing the first generation of vehicles plugged into the grid now. In a couple of years, they will be introducing the second generation of vehicles, and that’s our target,” Schatz said.

WiTricity’s technology uses resonance to delivery electricity, an approach that doesn’t require direct contact between the car and the power source. Resonators sends power wirelessly and receive it, ferrying electricity through a magnetic field. An electric car will have to be parked at a designed charging space to get the electricity transfusion between a plate on the ground and a receiver in the car’s chassis.

In its press release, Toyota said such technology is “more efficient than electromagnetic-induction,” which requires contact. Inductive charging is making its way into the consumer electronics market, and a typical set-up involves placing a gadget on a mat, which can send electricity to the gadget wirelessly, but it still needs to be connected to a power outlet using a cord.

Toyota isn’t the only automotive partner for WiTricity, which announced an agreement with Delphi Automotive last September. Earlier this month, Delphi, which already makes wired electric car chargers, showed a car with a wireless charging system using WiTricity’s technology during an automotive engineering conference in Detroit.

WiTricity’s technology delivers up to 3.3 KW of electricity, making it comparable to the rate provided by wired Level 2 chargers today, Schatz said. WiTricity’s equipment has been able to achieve 90-percent efficiency in the lab, he added. That means a 10-percent loss between when the electricity leaves the grid and arrives at the car battery pack.

Evatran, a Virginia-based wireless charging technology developer, told us last year that its prototype equipment could deliver just under 80 percent efficiency, but it won’t launch products in the market until the efficiency hits 90 percent. A car will get that 90 percent efficiency as long as it’s parked “plus or minus a quarter of a meter” in a designated space, Schatz said.

A host of other car and charging equipment makers also are working on wireless charging technologies. Nissan, which rolled out its electric LEAF last year, also has been working on wireless charging technology. General Motors (s gm) has invested in wireless charging developer Powermat, but it has only talked about bringing the inductive charging technology into its cars for charging cell phones and other consumer electronics, not the car batteries.

Because wireless charging is new, WiTricity and its peers believe the best way to popularize their technologies is by building them into car desigh, rather than selling them as stand-alone, after-market products. The electric car market is so new that whether consumers will have to pay a premium for wireless charging remains to be seen.

Aside from the automotive market, WiTricity also is developing products for consumer electronics, industrial and military customers, Schatz said. The company has shipped devices to its customers for testing, product designs and, in some cases, field deployment. WiTricity-enabled charging device for the consumer electronics market should show up in 2012, he added.

Photo courtesy of WiTricity