The first season of the FIA Formula E Championship will see Qualcomm's wireless charging technology used in safety cars

Safety car first step for Formula E's wireless charging revolution

Semiconductor technology manufacturer Qualcomm has unveiled its wireless charging technology for Formula E safety cars at the series’ final test race in Donington on Tuesday.

The 3.3kW charging system, capable of charging the safety car’s battery in about the same amount of time as a plug-in charger, is only the first step of what Qualcomm hopes will become a wireless electric vehicle charging revolution.

“Formula E wanted to get the cars out into the race as soon as possible, which means we didn’t have enough time to implement everything we wanted,” said Graeme Davison, Qualcomm’s Vice President for technology. “Although we have been talking about wireless charging for the race cars themselves, there wasn’t enough time to do that for this year.”

The hybrid electric safety cars, modified BMW’s i8 an i3 models, to be used in the championship to limit the speed of the racing cars in case of obstructions on the track, have been unveiled and tested during the event including charging using Qualcomm’s Halo wireless electric vehicle charging technology. Parked above a pad connected with cables to a power supply unit, the vehicles receive power at amplified frequency of 85 thousand Hz, allowing for more than 90 per cent efficient power transfer.

However, as pretty much everything in Formula E, for Qualcomm, the current state of the art is just the beginning.

“We have a very exciting plan for Formula E. We start of today as you see with the safety cars and the medical cars being charged wirelessly and we are working now at the race cars so in a year or two we will have wireless charging in the racing cars on some of the teams,” Qualcomm’s Vice President for Business Development & Marketing Anthony Thomson said, revealing that Trulli was among the teams committed to implement wireless charging on their future race vehicles.

“Ultimately, we are looking to charge dynamically, which means that we would have hardware underneath the track and the cars picking up power as they drive.”

The technology, which Qualcomm sees as one of the most exciting spin offs readying for the realm of commercial electric vehicles, would have major implications for the Formula E championship itself.

Due to technology constraints related to battery endurance and charging time the FIA decided each driver will have two cars for each race, swapping vehicles mid-race while the first depletes its battery.

Changing cars was considered less risky than changing the vehicle’s 200 kilo lithium ion batteries supplied by Williams.

For safety reasons, the giant batteries have to be as carefully protected as the drivers themselves to prevent dangerous accidents, especially as lithium ion cells have a rather infamous inclination to ignition.

Charging the cars wirelessly throughout the race would allow to get rid of that extra car without forcing the drivers to wait to get their charge or having the technicians manipulate with the battery.  

“We may start building charging hardware into a parallel track but we could also have it on the racing line,” Thomson explained.

“Having it on the racing line would have some exciting side effects on the race as the drivers who keep the best line would pick up more power, so that would give an advantage from good driving.”

Hurtling around the racing circuit at Donington at about 150 mph (250 kph), the twenty drivers of the ten teams competing in the inaugural Formula E season have shown the cheering crowds in Donnington that electric cars, indeed, can be fast and exciting.

Capable of accelerating from 0 to 100 kph in three seconds with a sound resembling that of a jet engine, the cars of the first season have all been built by Spark Racing Technology, equipped with Williams supplied batteries, Dallara developed chassis, an electrical engine built by MaLaren and a five-speed gearbox by Hewland.

Starting from the next season, individual teams will be able to develop their own improvements to push the technology to its limits.

“The aim of the constructors’ championship will be to focus on the drive train, the batteries, the motor systems themselves,” said Davison. “That will be where we will start seeing the innovations in motorsport pushing developments through like speed and battery life. All that will flow down into the electric vehicles we will drive in the near future.”

The race, which will be kept in parallel to the more established and high profile Formula One, is also hoped to raise the reputation of electric vehicles in the society and shatter some deeply ingrained prejudices.

“Most people still have this feeling that electric vehicles are OK, but they are not brilliant,” said Thomson. “But with Formula E, we are going to see electric vehicles going very fast around very tight circuits and it will be very exciting racing.

“Hopefully, Formula E will show people that they can go and buy an electric car and that it could be a great car, which is very important because we need to get rid of the air pollution in our cities and the only way to do it is to get rid of the internal combustion engine car.”

To direct its message to city dwellers, all Formula E events will be held in large cities around the world starting in September in Beijing, China.

Qualcomm, which has been involved with the Formula E project right from the start, has further plans with the race. Not hoping to steal the heart of old-school motoring fans, the company wants to focus on younger audiences offering new levels of interactivity.

Fans will be able to follow their favourite drivers and interact with them or take part in the race through near real-time computer gaming.


Watch our video from the Donington event:

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