The Wireless Charging Revolution Is Just Months Away. Here's How It Starts.

directly above view by drone of stunning colorful light trails in curvy road
The Wireless Charging Revolution Is ImminentArtur Debat - Getty Images
  • The German town of Balingen is hosting the first public test of an electrified road that charges cars while they drive using “dynamic induction charging.”

  • These roadways could help improve electric vehicle range and cost while revolutionizing green public transportation.

  • The cost of these roads, as well as their deployment in rural areas, remains a big challenge.

When talking to people about buying an electric vehicle, “range anxiety” is what keeps most from joining the EV revolution. Although cars like Tesla’s Model 3 can reach distances up to 358 miles per charge (for the long range model), most electric vehicles—especially the affordable ones—still hover around 250 miles if you’re lucky. Combine that anxiety with lagging EV infrastructure and long charging times, and an electric car looks more and more like a wait-and-see purchase.

Although recent federal investments in EV infrastructure and further advancement in battery technology will only aid in EV adoption, clever engineering also helps ease anxieties by building electrified roads that charge your car while you drive. The idea is called “dynamic induction charging” and the first public test of this potentially groundbreaking technology is about to go online later this year, the Financial Times reports.

This one-kilometer strip of road in a town called Balingen, about an hour’s drive from Stuttgart in southwest Germany, is being built by Electreon, an Israeli-based company that has similar pilot projects around the world. Much like the way modern smartphones can charge wirelessly, so, too, can electric cars. This road works by leveraging magnetic resonance induction, where copper coils embedded under the roadway transfer energy to a receiver installed on any electric vehicle—whether a Chevy Bolt or massive electrified bus.

The idea of wireless EV charging isn’t new, and companies like BMW have designed stationary charging pads that can power up cars without a bulky cable, but Electreon’s electrified road baked that inductive idea into the transportation network,

If these roads prove effective (and crucially, if they can be built affordably), EVs could opt for smaller batteries that could drastically lower cost. But the near-term benefits of electrified roads would first be felt elsewhere.

“The aim of this project is not only to open up wireless charging to the public in Germany,” Andreas Wendt, a chief executive at Electreon, tells Financial Times. “Other significant aspects include the development and use of a tool that will assist public transportation planners in where to install the inductive infrastructure for a specific town or region.”

Bus routes or autonomous shuttles in city centers and universities are what’s known as “captive fleet,” meaning they have regularly scheduled routes and roadways. This technology could make it so that these public transportation vehicles could simply run 24/7 with no downtime needed to juice up its batteries. The idea is so compelling that the Michigan Department of Transportation signed a five-year agreement with Electreon last year to trial an in-road charging network along a one-mile stretch in Detroit.

These projects are still in the learning phase and need to overcome some serious limitations, chief among them being cost. While it may make sense to electrify the roads of the world’s largest cities and busiest highways, embedded wireless charging in rural communities is a much bigger challenge.

But so far, the idea has only been embraced by automakers as companies like Fiat-Chrysler and Volvo are already testing the induction technology on their vehicles. If things go well in places like Balingen and Detroit, electrified roads could be the antidote for the EV revolution’s lingering anxieties.

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