Google isn’t content to simply have driverless cars that are adorable and look like something your toddler should be playing with in the driveway. They want their electric autonomous cars to feature wireless charging and have been testing the technology to see if they can make it work.
The company filed documents with the FCC that show it’s working on two different wireless charging systems for its protoype electric self-driving cars. Hevo Power was given permission last February to install their experimental charger at Google’s headquarters in California. A second system designed by Momentum Dynamics was was granted the same permission last summer.
According to Spectrum, the companies may be different, but the systems they’re testing are similar. Both use a transmitter embedded in the ground to transfer power to a receiver mounted beneath the vehicle. Hevo’s system delivers 1.5 kilowatts from a cover that looks a lot like a manhole cover in the pavement. They say power ratings are up to 200 kW.
Google is also testing Momentum Dynamics chargers at several locations. They’re currently installed at their HQ and at Castle Commerce Center, which is a former Air Force base where Google now tests their autonomous vehicles.
Wireless charging is a big part of getting people to by into the whole Google car concept. Kids, who wouldn’t need an adult on board, can’t be expected or relied on to recharge vehicles. The same goes for passengers ferried by autonomus taxis. These vehicles need to be able to go to a spot to be charged without having a human on hand to get plugged in.
If these wireless charging systems work, then the car could simply pull up over the designated spot whenever it’s not in use and keep itself charged. Ready access to charging pads could also reduce the need for bigger and more powerful batteries. Knowing there’s plenty of places to get that charge, at any time, means batteries run less risk of running dry.
The secondary benefit is the potential size reduction. Electric vehicle baatteries are big, but reducing their capacity would make them smaller. This frees up room in the car for people or cargo and frees up designers by giving them more flexibility.
There is zero public infratstucture for wireless charging right now, although there are home charging units compatible with select vehicles. Considering how slow the rollout of plug-in charging stations has been, it’s unlikely these new wireless stations will be dotting our roads anytime soon.