Why connectivity and automation will be essential to next-generation electric vehicles

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When it comes to charging an electric vehicle, there are several options available. There’s the traditional plug-it-in version, the up-and-coming static wireless charging (park and charge), and the future dynamic wireless charging (charging while driving). So, where does the connected vehicle feature fit? Previously, I’ve discussed the synergy between connectivity and automation and how this can create greater capability and benefits than both operating in isolation. Now I want this discussion to include vehicle electrification.

Electric vehicle consumers are on the rise, and as this industry grows, there will be an expanding interest in how the recharging of batteries can be more accommodating. In addition, there needs to be a way of addressing one of the biggest issues people have with battery powered vehicles – range anxiety.

Dynamic wireless charging can address the range-anxiety issue and additionally, provide a means by which automated vehicles can run more efficiently (e.g. continuously running transit vehicles on a fixed loop).

If there were charging loops along segments of roadway, electric vehicle owners could charge their vehicle as they travel toward their destination. The concern about running out of power decreases, which in turn makes battery-powered vehicles much more attractive. Likewise, if there are charging loops along a fixed transit loop, then battery-powered vehicles could travel for greater periods of time, essentially continuously, and would only need to stop occasionally.

However, dynamic wireless charging requires the other technologies of connectivity and automation to be in place. Connectivity is needed so that the vehicle can communicate with the charging infrastructure to exchange the required information, to enable the power transfer to take place. Because of the speed at which the vehicle is moving, DSRC is currently the likely technology of choice. Additionally, vehicles need to be tightly aligned with the charging coils, which means automation is needed to achieve this alignment precision. Otherwise, the efficiencies of the power transfer would not be achieved and there would be too much power loss to make this approach cost-effective.

The concept of dynamic wireless transfer is not without its challenges; there are costs and practicality issues of installing the necessary infrastructure in the road network, and of course, safety and performance issues as well. The International Transportation Innovation Center in South Carolina, USA, and the Transport Research Laboratory in the UK are both trying to advance the research to the point of commercial viability.

While it may be several years before in-motion wireless charging becomes commercially available, connected vehicle technology is clearly a building block to the future. Not only for automation and electrification, but undoubtedly for many other capabilities as well.

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