The German hybrid will be the first consumer vehicle to make use of the technology
Mercedes is set to do away with troublesome wires –at least when it comes to charging its 2017 S550e-class luxury sedan. The new model will come with the option of an inductive wireless charging pad developed by San Diego-based technology company Qualcomm.
Although the S550e (marketed as the S500 in Europe) is a hybrid rather than a true EV, the wireless electric vehicle charging (WEVC) system will be the first available in the consumer automotive industry, having cut its teeth in Formula E racing competitions over the past two years.
The technology itself is theoretically quite simple. The charging pad -which is connected to the mains via a wire-, contains an induction coil, usually made of silver-plated copper, which creates an electromagnetic field when switched on. The car has a similar wire fitted underneath it which converts power taken from the field back into electricity in order to charge the car. All the user has to do is line up the two coils and they’re good to go.
The Qualcomm Halo, as the charging pad is known, will initially operate at 3.6kW of power. A modest start although Qualcomm are working on a 7.7kW version at this very moment, and are even looking into the long-term possibility of a 25kW pad. Nevertheless, the current model is nowhere near efficient enough to be integrated with true EVs. A 3.6kW charging pack can take between 6 and 8 hours to store 100 miles worth of charge on most EVs. Therefore a Tesla Model X, for example, with around 250 miles range could take a full 20 hours to charge completely (were it compatible) using a Halo.
Pulling the plug
Graeme Davison, VP at Qualcomm Halo has been monitoring the pad’s performance in Formula E racers since 2014, and estimates that the charging efficiency of the pad is at least 90%, if not more. If this is accurate, it means the pad is practically as good as standard wired chargers which operate at around 95% on average. Davison is certain that efficiency will only increase as well, since the more powerful the charger, the better the efficiency percentage tends to be. In terms of practicality, getting rid of wires would seem to be a no-brainer, if all one has to do to charge their car is park on top of a pad.
That said, Qualcomm’s product must improve quickly if it is going to be lucrative in the short term. As was pointed out earlier, they are still not good enough to charge true EVs efficiently, and even at twice the power it currently has the process will be slow. Because the pad still has to be plugged in, it still has to face the knotty EV issue of where one will be able to charge their car in markets such as Europe, where houses and apartments don’t always have the convenient garage space that is typical in places such as California, the crucible of EVs.
The mood at both Mercedes and Qualcomm appears to be optimistic, though. At the Paris Motor Show last month, Mercedes unveiled its new all-electric ‘EQ’ range, slated for production and shipping in 2019. Mercedes home rivals’, BMW and Volkswagen are also working on products with Qualcomm, and the BMW i8 safety cars in Formula E already regularly use the Halo.
For the foreseeable future, such technology will remain a luxury, with the S550e expected to cost $96,600 upon release. ElecTrans has reached out to Qualcomm for a predicted price on the optional pad as there is no mention of a sum in its press release. Nevertheless, it seems apparent that the company is earnest in its wish to play a key role in the continuing rise of EVs.