Qualcomm has unveiled a new more powerful wireless charging technology for Formula E safety cars and hinted it will put first wireless chargers on some of the demonstration vehicles this year ahead of possible deployment on racing cars next year.
At a pre-season event in Donington, Qualcomm representatives introduced the new improved architecture of the Halo wireless charging system that delivers 7.2kW of power, double the amount of the last year’s charger. As a result, Formula E’s safety cars and medical cars – electric BMW i3 and hybrid i8, will have their batteries charged in only one hour, half the amount of time needed by the previous iteration.
Instead of a single charging coil, the new Halo system features a double D design that provides an enhanced shape of the electromagnetic field for better energy transmission and makes it easier for the driver to park above the charging pad in the correct position.
“The coil architecture is more advanced,” explained Anthony Thompson, vice president of business development and marketing for Qualcomm Halo. "The packaging on the vehicle is a little smaller so even if we have higher power, what is sitting on the car is smaller than what was there with the 3kW version. So it is pretty exciting.”
For season two of the all-electric championship, which starts in Beijing on 17 October, the actual racing cars will still only be charged with conventional plug-in chargers but Qualcomm said first demonstration vehicles will be fitted with the system to inspire the teams to consider the technology in the next season.
“There are a couple of vehicles that can be seen in promotional use around the world which are practically the same as the racing cars last year,” said Thompson. “So this year we will put wireless charging on that vehicle and just do some testing and validation and make sure that the technology works.”
Thompson said Qualcomm and its partners will have to tackle a couple of challenges to make the technology really interesting for the car designers. First of all, the power needs to be increased to at least 20kW to cater for the needs of the 80kW Formula E racing car batteries. The second drawback is the fact that adding another system onto the car would add to its weight, which is an undesirable side effect in the sport focused on lightness on efficiency.
“The current 7.2kW system for the safety cars adds about 5 to 10kg to the weight of the vehicle,” said Thompson. “But with the racing cars we would want to get to at least 20kW so that will necessarily be heavier. Largely because you put more magnetic field and then you need to have bigger components, bigger electronics, bigger switches, bigger resistors and that sort of things. If you are adding 20kg to a car, that’s quite a lot so we have to come up with a way of offsetting that.”
Ultimately, Qualcomm wants to see the racing cars being charged dynamically while driving and is already taking steps to roll out first dynamic charging experiments in the next five years.
“We have a test track in New Zealand, where we do a lot of work with the Auckland University,” said Thompson. “It’s only 30 meters long so we can test the technology for very short runs. But we are also involved in the EU-funded Fabric project, which aims to develop a longer 100-m test track in France were it would be possible to test how cars pick up charge dynamically at highway speeds. “
Construction of the Fabric test track will start next year, after which, Thompson believes, things will start moving faster for the deployment of the technology with Formula E.
“We will learn a lot from this project and will be in the position to know what works, what does not work, what is missing etc.,” explained Thompson. “Then we will be in a position to say, let’s put it on track somewhere, probably in the UK and show the teams that it is actually a viable technology.”
Dynamic charging will allow the cars to have smaller batteries as charge will be available continuously. The eventual aim would be moving towards cars that operate completely without batteries and could be driven non-stop.
As Formula E races takes place in cities, the infrastructure laid for the championship could be subsequently used in everyday city traffic to charge electric cars and buses.
“Roads generally last between ten and forty years and obviously if the road is paying back and becomes an asset in itself and a revenue generator then maybe the model would be challenged,” said Thompson. “But we have to consider that the technology has to be very stable and robust to last those sorts of lengths of time,” he concluded.
The second season of the Formula E championship will see eight different drive train designs provided by eight manufacturers. In the first season all teams competed with identical cars. Battery technology is expected to open for innovation next year.
Listen to the different sounds of the eight new types of the Formula E drive trains: