Over on Hooniverse, Alex Kierstein is covering CES 2011. I’m not sure, but I think that’s a convention for people who like to dress up in big furry animal costumes and get it on Discovery Channel style. I’m not sure why Alex is covering that, but that’s none of our business. Fortunately, while he’s there, he’s also managing to find some cool technology items that could prove to be interesting to us here at AtomicToasters. In case you missed it, here are some highlights!
While stumbling, bleary-eyed, dead on my feet, across a hall so large the curvature of the earth would have been visually apparent were it not for a vast sea of similarly stumbling event attendees, I spotted a Tesla Roadster at the Fulton Innovations stand. The Tesla was charging … without wires! “What unnatural divination be this?” I bellowed. “From whence did this foul electromancy come, what evil hallow, what forsaken coven?”
“Uh … Michigan?” the stand person ventured.
Everyone knows that the warlocks left Michigan when the real estate market crashed, so I put my vial of holy water back under my cloak and saddled up to the stand to learn more. It turns out the Tesla’s charging system was a proof-of-concept demonstration, to show that the technology could be scaled up to charge something that large. So it’s not a product on the market, and the folks at the stand weren’t able to answer too many of my technical questions, but I was able to glean a few things from them using my unending fount of charm and wit. The most interesting part was that it wasn’t a horribly inefficient way to charge a device, with the Fulton folks claiming only 16% less efficiency than a given wired charging system. Sure, that’s significant, but it may be fine for certain situations where there is a tradeoff involved.
The system was also rigged to charge at a level roughly equivalent to plugging into a 110V outlet, so if you were to take this concept unit as-is and try to charge your Tesla’s massive battery completely, it’d take about 50 hours. That being said, the Fulton representative said there’s no significant barrier to a 240V-type charging system, more in line with what an EV actually needs. If and when an eCoupled vehicle system comes to market, it’s likely to be the 240V-equivalent type.
The other interesting part of the device on display was that it was a “piggyback” type – that is, there were no modifications to the Tesla’s charging or management systems. A receiver bolted under the car fed power to an inverter in the trunk or some such place, which then fed power through a wire to a plug that went into the standard Tesla charging port. As far as the Tesla was concerned, it was plugged into the wall as per normal. This is probably the aftermarket application of the device – another option is to wire up a car at the factory to natively charge inductively. That would mean you would park the car over the inductive coil and walk away, with greater efficiency to boot (as shown in the graphic above). Both the piggyback demonstrator and the hypothetical OEM installation can be monitored remotely via a smartphone application or a web interface, much like the big manufacturers were rolling out with their EVs.
My take: a few quick points. The Tesla was clearly there just as eye candy – this makes a lot more sense for fleet vehicles and services like ZipCar, with a few wealthy Tesla owners retrofitting these in their garages as icing on the cake. It may also make more sense for urban situations where many residential areas lack garage parking, like in San Francisco. Since the urban sector is where EVs make the most sense, a solution like inductive charging might make a lot of sense despite the lesser efficiency and greater cost. That’s my two cents, at least … the Fulton guy merely said they’re studying a lot of options. And then there was a flash and a puff of smoke, and he vanished. Damn electromancy!
The trip to CES and the N8 phone that was used to take images and provide updates from the show were graciously provided by Nokia.