Charging mobile devices in a car isn’t new, and there’s no shortage of cables, mounts and cradles that can keep the batteries going, but what if the charging could be done wirelessly? This is the focal point behind Qi (pronounced chee), a technology established by the Wireless Power Consortium (WPC) to become the standard method of charging electronic devices in vehicles.
The WPC has a membership of more than 100 companies that include consumer electronics giants, mobile device manufacturers, battery designers and auto parts manufacturers. The idea is to make Qi as ubiquitous to portable devices as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi currently are.
This would work by using magnetic resonance to charge a Qi-enabled device. That would require the device have a receiver installed in the back, which can then be placed on a cradle or dock in the car to initiate the charge. The latest transmitter is able to work up to a distance of 40 mm, which is more relevant to counters and tabletops in homes and offices, but also applies to vehicles, says Menno Treffers, Chairman at WPC.
In an interview, Treffers said that the technology is a considerable step up from existing wireless charging options that require the use of an external sleeve or dongle to facilitate the charge. In other words, this would work a lot like Powermat or Duracell’s myGrid, except for the lack of receiver case or sleeve. And unlike basic wired chargers, Qi would only top up a fully-charged device at a lower wattage to save energy.
“There are many different solutions for placement and form factor is not an issue, though power levels are,” he said. “The current spec is up to 5V, which is fine for mobile phones, but tablets would need to go to 10-15V. We can expect that to be rectified later this year as the Qi spec evolves further.”
One advantage of this, he adds, is that multiple devices can charge at the same time from different locations in the vehicle because manufacturers could decide where and how many they could deploy. They’re also not overly expensive, so they wouldn’t radically affect the cost of the car.
Qi-enabled smartphones are already in production and circulation in Japan and South Korea, where the technology has had success as an office and home alternative to plugging in. It’s now penetrating the automotive side in those markets, as was evidenced recently at the Shanghai Auto Show in April.
Aftermarket manufacturers are likely to take the lead in bringing Qi to market in North America because their product cycle is shorter than that of the auto makers. Eventually, the technology could be scaled to a point where a garage floor could charge an electric car, although Treffers admits this is purely conceptual at this stage, and would require much higher power levels.
“For now, the ecosystem is in place where a number of chip-set suppliers provide manufacturers with greater choice,” he says. “That’s all been created by the companies that invest in this supply chain, and if these companies cooperate and their products are interoperable, that should really get the market going.”