By on January 6, 2011

GM has invested $5 million in the Powermat wireless charging start-up, and they want to use the technology “to charge its soon-to-be-launched Chevy Volt hybrid electric car,” Businessgreen reports. They report from the UK, so they shall be forgiven the “soon-to-be-launched” this one time only. But to charge a Chevy Volt?

Launched 2007, Powermat‘s charging mats are used to charge small electronic devices like mobile phones and mp3 players contact-less. You put them on a mat, and magnetic induction does the rest. Just like charging many new electric toothbrushes. The basic technology is as old as the transformer.

According to Businessgreen, “GM’s investment will support the adaptation of the technology for use by the auto industry and could eventually lead to electric cars being charged simply by being parked in a fitted garage.” Oh yes?

As part of a multi-year deal, GM will have exclusive use of the Powermat technology for one year to place the systems in its vehicles worldwide, GM Ventures President Jon Lauckner told Reuters.

Well, before any cars  are charged in a Powermat-equipped garage, the Volt may use the technology to simply charge personal devices in the car. But not after testing made sure that technology doesn’t mess with the car. A Volt fitted with wireless charging devices will be show at this week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. But that’s the easy part.

I know what you are thinking now: Roads with black … don’t even think it. Charging an amp-hungry car with the technology comes with its own set of, well, challenges.  If you wear a pacemaker, or are worried about cell phones frying your brain cells, you may want to stay away from a garage outfitted with a giant Powermat that gives your car its daily MRI.

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27 Comments on “GM Invests $5 Million Into Wireless Charger – For The Volt?...”

  • avatar

    We get it. TTAC doesn’t like change, innovation, anything to do with advancing electric cars.
    And there’s that knee jerk response to anything that can be labeled “green”.

    Something has got to give with a world exploding with new drivers all demanding limited resources.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s not TTAC. It’s me. The problem you have with me is that I received some schooling in electricity and electronics, and it’s not that easy to pull the wool over my head. What you have here is the most inefficient transformer you can think of. It’s ok (albeit wasteful) to charge a device that can also be charged from a 500 mA USB connector. You won’t see a Powermat charging your electric drill anytime soon.  And it’s definitely not the optimal way to charge the 16 kWh battery of the Volt.

    • 0 avatar

      The issues Bertel cites are real.  You don’t just sent 10-20 Amps through the air without serious EMI issues, not to mention heat, spacing variation, and infrastructure problems, even inside a house.

      And it’s not about GM.  The same criticisms would be leveled at Nissan, Mitsubishi, Ford, or any other EV wannabes.

    • 0 avatar
      M 1

      I would expect anyone so fascinated with eco-wonderfulness would decry the staggering inefficiency of induction charging. Maybe you’d be happier at Autoblog Green, where the facts take a comfortable back seat to Cheerleading The Dream.

    • 0 avatar

      While I’ll be the first to say there’a definite anti-green and anti-EV bias among many enthusiasts—I won’t get into why, but it’s definitely there—I’ll agree that this specific idea is very, very stupid.
      If you’re buying an EV and you’re the least bit concerned with efficiency (and let’s be honest, that’s pretty likely) then a device that wastes huge amounts of energy for the sake of saving a few seconds of hand effort is kind of silly, not to mention hugely hypocritical and a complete waste of money.
      I mean, sure, a breakaway connector I could see, but induction?  Really?  You may as well run your clothes dryer via the same method and see what your hydro bill looks like.

    • 0 avatar

      Having developed a passion for cars in the ’60s and ’70s, I have no interest in driving an electric vehicle or hybrid myself, unless they feel and sound like a combustion engine.

      But I am not blind to the problems on the horizon and I applaud those who are attempting to address them.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah,  we do get it. Plenty of people criticize TTAC for perceived bias against GM, Unions or Green stuff. Truth hurts. Deal with it.
      These companies are vying for government funding for their plans,  the fact they defy physics is not a concern.

    • 0 avatar

      TTAC’s dunderheaded opposition to anything progressive is a throwback to the buff book mentality. Anything to do with alternative fuels, traffic safety measures or the fortunes of U.S. manufacturers is presented with a heavy overlay of gratuitous snark. It’s tiresome.
      TTAC doesn’t understand that the macho thing is passé, and some of us are looking ahead, glad that manufacturers taking risks and grateful for safety features.

    • 0 avatar

      It does seem like picking on GM.
      All GM have said is that they are looking at using the inductive charging technology in cars. So they have invested in Powermat, for stock. That kind of thing happens all the time in Silicon Valley. Nice to see GM pick up on it.
      And there’s no reason to think electromagnetic induction cannot charge a car. As others have said, efficiency may be a problem. But GM used it to charge its EV-1. That worked well.
      Is it fair to criticize GM for using this technology improperly when they have not said how they are going to use it? Not in my book. Doesn’t seem to fit well at a website that focuses on truth, not fiction.

  • avatar

    I don’t think it’s TTAC not liking electric cars, I just think like most car enthusiasts they have a healthy skepticism about the General in general.

  • avatar
    Rod Panhard

    Makes sense to me. The biggest obstacle to electric cars is the pain-in-the-butt “you gotta refill the tank every day” problem of recharging the battery. If you’ve ever come home from work, and walked into the house with two or three kids who have to be fed and yadda-yadda-yadda, well, you know, sometimes, somebody is NOT going to remember to charge the car.
    And the next morning? Insert key. Zip. Not enough juice to get to work. A “docking” station is real important to the success of the electric car. Look what it’s done for laptop computers.

  • avatar

    GM haters all relate back to the start of the 1973 models – they signalled the death of the pillarless hardtop, the fire-breathing muscle cars, powerful engines – all the stuff that GM pioneered from, say, 1955-on, for the most part. Ford and Chrysler were always followers, like it or not, on the stuff that actually sold cars and had the most curb-appeal. Well, that was less than 20 years and that was almost 40 years ago. Get over it – I have, somewhat, but still want my hardtops where rear windows roll down. Other than that, any new technology that pioneers how we get around is O.K. by me – whether I buy into it or not. Pretty soon all the arguments and whining on here and on other sites will be irrelevant, anyway. A healthy skepticism, or at least a wait-and-see attitude is what prevails with me. As far as tearing down a winding road at the very limit of my driving ability – well, I’m long over that, too. I just want a ride I can take pride of ownership in, whether that be a rip-roaring sports car or a gentle highway cruiser, whatever your resources allow for. I read all the personal rants and really don’t understand why someone who would never buy a particular car from any car company rags on and on about how terrible/cheap/uninspired it may be to them, but if you look at what’s on the road, someone buys them! Go figure. Objective criticism. I’ll stop now!

    • 0 avatar

      Thank you, Zackman, for bringing up The Hardtop Issue! A real pillarless hardtop has always been on the top of my Gotta Have-list, particularly a 4-door hardtop! This is a bit contrary to my experience with the species, like in a 69 Ford Galaxie, where the wind howled thru the not-exactly-windproof window seals. I am thinking that with today’s technology, it must be possible to build such a car without compromising safety or structural integrity much. So c’me on General, to your drawing boards and draw up a beautiful hardtop, in both 2- and 4-dorr configurations!

    • 0 avatar

      tsofting: I’ve stated in other posts, but I learned to drive in my dad’s 1960 Impala and later enjoyed my dad’s 1966 Impala. Both were 4 door hardtops. There’s simply nothing like lowering all four windows, and, on those cars, cranking the vent windows all the way out and enjoying all the fresh air (and noise) you can stand! Although the highway was pretty rough on the “hears”, cruising suburban streets was pure heaven. Same for 2 door hardtops. Rattles and air leaks were never an issue with our cars. I have never owned a hardtop, but have and do own convertibles which is a thrill all its own. The problem is, if I bought an old hardtop I could actually afford, it’s not a car I would want. The old Chevys are off the charts, so I’ll just dream. Mercedes hardtop? In my dreams! Those don’t turn me on, either.

  • avatar

    Errr, lookup Magne Charge.
    High efficiency in the best inductive design is around 86% at very high frequency. That’s fine when you’re passing a few watt hrs to a shaver or torch, but a car??
    Also, I don’t think you can easily reverse the flow, so the idea of using a suburb (or business district) of parked electric cars as grid stabilisation might not work.
    Having said that, I think Toyota and Ford (Renault/Nissan maybe?) have mentioned interest in a standards working group for this kind of charging.

    • 0 avatar
      M 1

      Magne Charge is inductive, but it isn’t wireless. The charging paddles are separated from the other coil by millimeters. “Long distance” induction charging is typically measured in single-digit inches. MIT had some sort of research that worked over multiple meters of separation a few years back, but it required very careful alignment.
      I find it ironic that “green” electric cars are turning to such a power-inefficient charging strategy in the name of convenience.

      Seems like automating the connection would be the best of both worlds. Drive over a pad that signals the car, “You’re parked,” then drop a couple of contacts. Similar to the short-distance corded induction charger, but automatic (and out of sight, out of mind).

    • 0 avatar

      Hmmm…the more I think about what you said, with all that juice spewing through the air and not mere radio waves, I think I’ll buy one of those stupid McMansions they build directly under high-tension power lines – you know, the ones suckers buy that are built on lots carved out of several backyards and share part of someone’s driveway. It would probably be much safer and healthier!

  • avatar

    If the mat has the primary coil, then the vehicle needs a secondary coil further increasing the weight and cost of the car. Both coils would have to be fairly substantial to provide sufficient charging current. What’s so hard about plugging in a cord to charge it? Looks to be the wrong (and expensive) solution to a very simple problem.

  • avatar

    For me, the weird part of this story is the deja-vu factor-

    The EV-1 used inductive technology in their charging “paddle” to shield the vehicle owners from exposed electrical contacts during use. As I recall, there were reports of issues with this technology after the vehicle release.

    Does the Volt use an inductive paddle? Nope, it uses a typical metallic plug. While I understand the Powermat technology is completely different from the EV-1 charger, it’s interesting that GM chose not to use inductive paddle technology they previously developed to charge the Volt, but is promoting the concept of an inductive charging mat.

    More smoke and mirrors from the General?

  • avatar

    The power cord tether is certainly an obstacle to EV proliferation, but GM’s investment in this particular technology to resolve it seems foolhardy.

  • avatar

    If I was “too big to fail” and had a safety net of taxpayer bailouts I wouldn’t be overly cautious about pie-in-the-sky investments either.

  • avatar

    GM announced today at CES that they will install Powermat technology in GM cars.  This is the all of what you will see on this technology in the next decade.

    Speaking as an electrical engineer… 

    Bertel’s comment of a daily MRI in your garage is appropriate.  Inductive charging is largely so inefficient because the generating coils simply push electro-magnetic waves into the general direction of where it hopes a corresponding set of coils may be.  These waves tend to “spread out” as they leave the source coils.  The result is that the power at the receiving coils decreases exponentially the further away they get from the source coils, because less and less of the waves hit their intended target.  (i.e., that 80’s era shop radio that you keep in the garage isn’t going to pick up the game any more)

    As already mentioned, apply this to cars gets interesting, because of the high power requirement and the fact that the car’s body sits on these four electrical insulaters that we call… tires.  And these insulators mean that the CLOSEST you could put the receiving coils would be 8-12 inches away from the source coils.  At an exponential loss rate, that would make the coil set VERY inefficient.

    If GM thinks they could make this a charging package for an EV, they’ll need to work on a very focused wave pattern, figure out how to optimize the coils to reduce their natural power losses, and likely have to develop a mechanical solution to reduce the physical distance between the coil sets.  Oh, and lead-lined garages maybe a good idea.

    In summary… enjoy the ability to throw your cell phone onto the dash and have it charge without struggle to find your charging cord, but don’t hold your breath on the Volt being able to charge itself without you hauling big-a** connector accross the garage.

  • avatar

    I think that circut needs a ground connection between secondary coil and the capacitor.

  • avatar

    They’ll get mroe efficiency if they centre-tap that secondary coil and go for full-wave rectification.

  • avatar

    If you look more closely at this, GM plans to put charging mats for cell phones and music players in the front dashboard and somewhere in the back seat area. In other words, put the existing Powermat technology in a car for charging small electronic devices.
    I think it would be handy. Throw your cell phone in a cubbyhole on the dashboard. It charges at the same time as you use it with your Bluetooth no-hands system. Sounds smart.
    The concept of charging an entire car, like the Volt, is pie in the sky.  The comment came not from GM, but from Powermat. Don’t blame GM for that.

    • 0 avatar

      The comment came not from GM, but from Powermat. Don’t blame GM for that.

      This. TTAC is the only site I’ve seen claiming that GM wants to do anything other than install a Powermat charger inside the car for charging gadgets. Criticizing a company for possibly doing something that they never even said they’d do based on the lead from a poorly-written stub article totally lacking in journalistic credibility is a bit shaky.

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