We Could Have Roads That Will Charge Your Car as You Drive

August 15th 2015

Modern conventional wisdom holds that cars will soon be driving themselves. But they could be charging themselves, too.

Highways England, the United Kingdom’s highway department, just rolled out the results of a £200 million feasibility study on roads that charge electric cars as they drive. The conclusion: it could actually work.

The technology is being billed as a potential solution for range anxiety, the concern drivers have that electric vehicles will run out of juice mid-drive without anywhere to charge. Theoretically, in-motion charging allows for unlimited range for electric vehicles without ever stopping to charge.

The UK has committed an additional £500 million in research funds over the next five years, according to Transport Minister Andrew Jones. Trials are set to start later this year.

Car-charging roadways are starting to look more like science than science fiction.

The Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) rolled out a shuttle bus in 2012 on its Daejon, South Korea, campus that charges in motion across a 20-centimeter air gap. The batteries weigh less than traditional electric vehicles, in turn making the buses more energy-efficient.

The United States is getting in on the action, too, with the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee successfully testing an in-motion charging system:

The technology works using a twin set of power-transfer coils, one in the car and another embedded in the road.

But so far, the UK seems to be the only country angling for a large-scale rollout of so-called “dynamic wireless power transfer.”

The cost is high.

For now, the cost of wireless charging puts a damper on the prospect of widespread adoption, University of Michigan, Dearborn electrical engineering Professor Chris Mi told ATTN:. The technology is more likely to find a home in bus lines and other commercial fleets rather than private vehicles, said Mi, who is editing an upcoming Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers publication on the topic. But even that scenario is a ways off.

“You’re probably going to see some demonstration lines in one or two years,” Mi said. “But for long-term deployment, you’re looking at a minimum of five to 10 years.”

The UK feasibility report noted a “chicken and egg” dilemma: without charging-equipped roadways, vehicle manufacturers have no incentive to roll out cars that can use them. To solve this problem, the report suggested partnering with potential early adopters, like commercial haulers, who could save on fuel costs by switching over.

The report also noted the possibility, down the line, of syncing wireless, in-motion charging with a control system for autonomous cars.

And with a considerable amount of buzz around power-generating solar roads, it isn’t hard to imagine closing the loop: roads that not only charge your car but also generate the power that fuels it.

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