One of the major problems that faces the emerging electric vehicle (EV) market is the range of electric vehicles. While, due to improvements in battery technology and car design and efficiency, some electric cars now have ranges well over 300 miles, a more comparable level with the range of their internal combustion (IC) cousins, they often come at the cost of, well, a much higher cost than petrol or diesel cars.
Another related problem is that while a driver can refill the petrol tank in their IC car in a matter of minutes and then carry on with their journey, electric vehicles typically take substantially longer to charge. Fast chargers for electric vehicles go some way to overcoming this problem, but they only work with cool batteries which in the real world usually limits the use of fast chargers to once per journey. So, despite dramatic improvements, the range of electric vehicles is still putting the brakes on this growing market.
However, advances recently published in the journal Nature are mapping the route towards a potential solution. In 2017, a paper by Shanhui Fan and Sid Assaworrarit demonstrated how wireless charging technologies could be applied to objects in motion. A second paper published earlier this year has now shown that this concept could be developed to power electric vehicles. In this second paper, Fan and Assaworrarit demonstrated that relatively high power could be transmitted over a large range of distances of up to 65cm while maintaining over 90% power transmittance efficiency.
While the 10 watts that Fan and Assaworrarit were able to transmit over this distance is far from the power required by an electric vehicle (10W is around the power used to charge mobile phones wirelessly), the authors state that it should be possible for their method to be scaled up to the kilowatt or even hundreds of kilowatt level. Coupled with the fact that the wireless power transmission only takes a few milliseconds, a charging system built to these specifications could be more than ample to power the electric vehicles of today, and, given that electric vehicles will only get more efficient as further developments are made, it could also provide a long term solution to our transport needs.
But powering electric cars and lorries on-the-go isn’t the only application for this technology. In the near term, one of the most promising applications of wireless charging on-the-go would be to power the many thousands of robots that operate in warehouses all over the world. For example, in a previous blog we discussed how supermarket delivery company Ocado have successfully leveraged technology and their IP in their high-tech, robo-staffed warehouses. Wireless on-the-go charging could enable Ocado to make their warehouses even more efficient by reducing the need for robots to temporarily stop work to recharge. Wireless on-the-go charging could reduce the number of robots necessary to complete orders, free up warehouse space currently taken up by charging points, and eliminate wasted time travelling between the warehouse floor and the charging locations.
It is clear that this new invention has many applications, and could prove to be a driving technology in the continued electrification of our world. Should the inventors be looking to commercialise their invention, obtaining patent protection for it would likely prove crucial. Such protection would allow them to be behind the wheel when it comes to who uses their invention – they could implement it themselves, license it to others, or sell the rights to use it completely. In this case, given the potential broad range of applications in many different industries, a comprehensive licensing regime could prove to be a lucrative route. However, given that patent applications take 18 months to publish, we will have to wait and see whether the inventors have decided to capitalise on their ideas in this manner.
The dedicated Electric and Autonomous Vehicles team at Reddie & Grose LLP has a wide range of experience when it comes to helping clients protect their ideas. Having experience at patenting almost all aspects of vehicle related design and technology, from electric motors to collision safety systems to vehicle-user interfaces, our team can provide you with tailored advice to help you get the most value from your idea.
This article is for general information only. Its content is not a statement of the law on any subject and does not constitute advice. Please contact Reddie & Grose LLP for advice before taking any action in reliance on it.