Toyota Adopts Wireless Charging, For Phones

By · December 21, 2012

Toyota's eBin charging

Just drop your cell phone onto the bin lid and it starts charging. Charging EVs works the same way. (Toyota photo)

It’s spelled “Qi” but it’s pronounced “chee.” It’s a global wireless charging standard for mobile devices, and Toyota has debuted it in the 2013 Avalon Limited as part of a $1,750 technology package.

Wireless charging, of course, is also an exciting application that can be used to plug in electric cars, and that’s happening soon, too. Evatran’s Plugless Power will be offering aftermarket wireless kits to charge the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt. A number of other companies are in a headlong competition to sign up automakers with wireless options.

The Wireless Infiniti

The Infiniti LE version of the LEAF, due in late 2013, will also incorporate wireless charging, in conjunction with an automatic parking system.

The cellphone apps give a hint how the EV charging will work. To charge a cellphone, the Avalon owner simply puts the device on the no-slip sliding lid of the “eBin,” designed to both hide and connect electronics and located between the seats. A transmitter built into the lid connects to a receiver in the Qi-enabled phone and it starts charging. The charging feature can be turned off with a switch inside the eBin.

Moe Durand, a spokesman for Toyota, describes the Avalon as the company’s “flagship" and “very much a technology showcase.” Part of that, besides fancy displays and capacitive switching, is the Entune audio system, which accesses Pandora and other services through owners’ cellphones.

According to Nick Sitarski, an engineer at the Toyota Technical Center, the idea of incorporating wireless charging for those phones was hatched very recently, in January or February of 2012.

What's Qi?

The Qi protocol for mobile devices is based on the principle of inductive charging, long used for such devices as electric toothbrushes and also the system used by Evatran and other companies wanting to retire the conventional EV charging station.

Qi was developed by the New Jersey-based Wireless Power Consortium to avoid the proprietary problem—cars with, for instance a Nokia charging system that could only handle Nokia phones. According to Menno Treffers, chairman of the WPC, 20 companies (with the notable absence of Apple) were active participants in developing Qi.

Some phones that are equipped with Qi out of the box are the Verizon HTC Droid DNA, LG Nexus 4, Nokia Lumia 929 and Android Windows HTC 8X. The iPhone and some others will work with Qi if equipped with an aftermarket sleeve.

A Tipping Point?

“This is a tipping point in the adoption of wireless charging,” said Treffers, who adds that the Avalon is the first in-car Qi application he’s seen. “It really shows there’s now an installed base of Qi phones, and that equipping cars to handle it is a benefit,” he said. “I think we will eventually see Qi in every car, though it may take a while.”

The Avalon lid isn’t sized to charge multiple devices at once, and that’s not really the goal with this type of inductive charging, where precise alignment really matters. A related form, magnetic resonant coupling, is more forgiving about distance, though Treffers warns that signals sent longer distances could create electronic interference, which could conceivably interfere with radio reception or other systems, such as tire pressure sensors.

There’s no Qi system for magnetic resonance, but that form, from WiTricity and others, also has applications for charging both in-car mobile devices and electric cars. WiTricity is partly owned by Toyota and has exploratory partnerships with other automakers.

The Proximity Issue

The cool thing about magnetic resonance is that a car wouldn’t have to be parked directly over its charging pad, and that a charging phone would be connected even if it was a few inches from the transmitter. You could simply throw your phone into or near a pad and it would charge (with some loss of efficiency at a distance).

Treffers says that inductive and magnetic resonance aren’t that different, and that the latter doesn't hugely extend the range of effective charging. “It’s a matter of a couple of inches,” he said. Maybe, but the reason Nissan is looking at an automatic parking option for the Infiniti LE is because of that proximity problem.

It’s simply difficult, with an inductive system, for the average motorist to line up his or her car with the transmitter on the garage floor. The old tennis ball on a string trick is good for lining it up vertically, but you need to line it up horizontally, too.

Automated parking is one approach, another might be an in-car screen and software that confirmed your position. I can’t say whether magnetic resonance or inductive charging will win the marketplace at this point, because both have distinct advantages. In any case, the Avalon eBin is the first step in what could be a long march with cars and wireless technology.


· · 5 years ago

Seems like an Apples and Oranges discussion to me. The most power piggy cellys nowadays like the Samsung Galaxy Note draw a whopping 10 watts. If the charger used 20 watts from the car there wouldn't really be a cost issue or heat issue.

The (to use ex-ev1's term) current Glacial Standard is 3300 watts (@ 240). If you're unfortunate to have only 200 volts available its more like 2750 watts, but even taking this lower figure, thats more than 2 orders of magnitude bigger than a celly. Here though, the efficiency is admittedly better at around 75% so far. It will be interesting to see how the heat will be dissipated (assuming around 700 watt loss), and what cost the equipment will be. Some people would accept the loss as a trade off for the convenience, so probably the biggest concern will be the cost for the 'automatic aligner'.

Personally, I'd think it would be easier to have the floor gadget 'find' the car (in other words, be slightly moveable), then trying to precisely locate the car over a rigid transmitter.

If this idea was moved to a 'smart cord and plug' (rather like the robot vacuums do it), then there wouldn't be any 700 watt loss at all!!, nor any modification to the car itself. The 'smart' plug would just have to "braille' its way onto the existing J1772. On a volt this is relatively simple. Once the thing "FEELS" the car for the round disk on the left fender, then the thing can blindly know where the socket is. A push of the key fob (you'd have to give your spare to the Robot) opens the hatch.

Hummmm!!! Sounds like a little project worth working on, hehe. All this inductive design crap and the car software to preposition the car will automatically become obsolete when the first person who comes up with a Robot Plugger Inner gets it to work.

· · 5 years ago

Don't even think about coming near this system with a pacemaker or credit cards in your pocket. Folks are concerned about the EMF from an EV and now you think they'll be happy living inside this kind of massive magnetic field?
I think that Bill's idea of a robotic device that automatically plugs the car in makes a whole lot more sense than this although it, too will be expensive.
Perhaps there is a way, using magnetic resonance, to 'focus' the magnetic field directly onto a receptor in the car to reduce the transfer losses (and hazards) but this is a whole lot more complex than what folks are talking about. Sure, it works with electric toothbrush chargers and the old inductive paddle EV chargers but those require very close placement of the magnetic transmitter and receiver, within a fraction of an inch.
I'll also remind folks who complain about paying $1K for a J1772 charger that even those old, simple, inductive chargers started around $5K each.

· · 5 years ago


2 points about your comment:

".....I'll also remind folks who complain about paying $1K for a J1772 charger that even those old, simple, inductive chargers started around $5K each.

For a Volt, most people don't buy a level II charger, current percentages are somewhere around 40%. Why are these numbers very accurate? Onstar constantly knows what every single car's condition is, and how much is being charged. They also keep a bit flag to know whether you are 120 or 240 (so it doesnt know if its 200 volts L2 or 240 volts L2, but it does know whether its L1 or L2).

This robotic thing would work fine with the existing 'cord' that comes with the car. I'd be very surprised if such a device in volume would sell for over $500. It really doesn't have to do much. The J1772 cord would be placed in the unit's holster, then it would snuggle up against the left front tire, feeling the front and back of the tire, to get a measurement of the exact distance to the axle. Then, it would know very closely where the charge port was. The open charge port door would provide precise alignment information so it could actually lock onto that as if mortising a door for a lockset. This would also correct for an angled floor, and at that point its a simple "in" when charging and "out" when complete. Enhancements would be a small cam to look for the green light on the dashboard to know when charging had been completed. Since it knows exactly where the chargeport is now, it knows exactly where to look for the dash light.

· · 5 years ago

I just read that j1773 'ev1' and original rav4ev was around 86% efficient. That's not so bad really, but then you still have the paddle to deal with...I guess the floor mounted units are more like 75% efficient.

· · 5 years ago

Excuse me guys and gals, apparently my info was old-fashioned. (who installs through Sears Auto Centers), apparently does conversions for VOLT and LEAF for $3000.

They also claim 90 % efficiency, which is really fantastically high.

I guess forget every thing I've said. My robot Idea can't compete with this, because apparently its AVAILABLE NOW.

The only thing I haven't figured out is how accurate do u have to be parking really?

· Herald (not verified) · 5 years ago

I rather have a simple contact based system on top of a rubber bumper on the ground in front of the car. This has been discussed a lot before but it is still valid.

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