Ask the Experts: Wireless Charging Technology and Its Future

JVIS was the first to introduce wireless charging technology in cars when we implemented a charging pad in the 2012 Dodge Dart. Our application of wireless charging became an industry standard. Today, JVIS utilizes wireless charging standards in the Apple-preferred Qi technology and Samsung’s Fast Charge, creating innovative ways to bring wireless charging to the masses. From allowing families to wirelessly charge phones in the car to providing a place to charge power tool batteries out on the job, JVIS is looking for the smartest, safest ways to take the next leap forward in our field.

The following is a Q&A with JVIS product development manager Gregg Clark, who discusses the past, present and future of wireless charging technology.

You were working on integrating wireless charging into cars years before anyone else. From your perspective, what is it like to see where the technology is today?

Clark: If I would’ve gone a decade out in my head and thought, “What’s it going to be like in 10 years?” I think that most people would think that they would be walking around with their phones charging in their pockets and their TVs unplugged. I think the original concept of wireless power conjures up in your head these amazing thoughts of no wires, but it just never worked out that way and it’s probably not going to work out that way – because high-power wireless charging is just unsafe. I’ll give you an example: Imagine that power lines run over your garage. If you walk into your garage and you wrap copper wires in a circle, you can actually steal the power from those power lines. They bleed power. That’s that buzzing sound you hear. People have been prosecuted for stealing power from the power lines on the grid, and that’s what wireless power is. But it’s unsafe because it emits an electromagnetic field, and that’s really what you’re taking advantage of when you wrap those coils. […] So I wanted to go after low power and really focus on that while everybody else in automotive wanted to charge electric vehicles and move to high power.

How do you mitigate some of those safety concerns? Or is the low-power charging just safer?

Clark: That was exactly it. We focused on low power. Most of the industry is focused on 15 watts, since it takes about 18 watts to power these larger phones that we have these days. JVIS was the first in the world to not just put wireless power in a vehicle but also to successfully put more power in a vehicle to charge devices than anybody had before. This was in 2012, in the Dodge Dart. That type of power being emitted safely is an industry first, so I’m quite proud of it. We became the first company in the world to put 15 watts of wireless power in a production vehicle. Most automotive brands are still struggling to add 15 watts, and we can now do so with inductive power. We have a Qi-certified 15-watt charging system with three coils. The advantage of the three coils is a larger surface to reduce alignment issues.

Can you explain your development of safe, wireless power in vehicles?

Clark: Originally, we introduced conductive power. Inductive power, in 2012, was not ready for the mass market. So we asked, “How do we focus on making that power safe?” A bunch of engineers at JVIS spent countless hours working on the smarts that made that particular charging pad shut off when a foreign object is on it and not get too hot. [The technology] has an understanding of how to not interfere with the radio frequencies and how to not shut the key fob off. It took countless hours of engineers and JVIS staff working together to bring a product to market that is automotive-ready. I think it’s key to understand that it’s 15 watts of power, so it’s closer to what your phone requires. Your phone’s requesting 18 watts, so if we give it 15, we get closer than anybody has, and we do it safely because we worked countless hours ensuring the safety and the efficiency of every vehicle and every phone.

How close are we to making wireless charging in cars an industry standard?

Clark: We’re racing to it right now. I would say within the next five years, maybe three years, I would expect every vehicle to have it. Right now it’s interesting because it’s only for the driver. We recently asked, “Have you considered another charging pad for the back seat and passenger?” I think everybody wants to power their phones, and the thing is, I want to sell not one charging pad per vehicle, but four. Beyond wireless charging, we can give you any kind of power you want. As an automotive supplier, we give [our clients] what they ask for. They usually ask for a USB port in the back seat as well so people can power an iPad, which requires more power. Those are the challenges with wireless charging: How do you deliver more power to higher-power products like an iPad or laptop? […] It’s really hard to do in a vehicle because you emit such a large electromagnetic field with larger products that you begin to interfere with key fobs, radio signals and other parts of the vehicle. You can only share so much space in that vehicle. So that’s the challenge and why you don’t see it everywhere. But 15 watts – four bricks in one vehicle charging smartphones – we can do those.

If you can’t do laptops because they’re too high power, what about tools? Can you put one of these large charging stations in the back of a truck for someone on a construction site?

Clark: The original wireless charging that we made in 2012 is still capable of charging power tools, so we are working with a few power tool companies right now so they can add our technology to their batteries. With our technology, when they’re on the way to the job site, they can charge their power tools. It can’t be done efficiently or effectively with what Apple and Samsung use right now. Again, it comes down to the battery requesting too much power; we would have to make such big coils, like in the garage, that it wouldn’t be safe. Someone actually came out with a wireless power tool and power tool battery, and they had to shield it so much that it lost its benefit of being wireless. You had to specifically lock it in a docking station, so how can that be wireless power? What our power tool batteries do with this original design is allow us to charge up to four different power tools underneath the crew cab in a super duty vehicle or truck. We can charge four different power tool batteries at the same time, at the same rate as plugging them in, no matter where they’re placed under the seat – and we can do it safely. We’re really proud of it. Now it’s just getting a power tool company to take a bold step. The technology is there; now it’s really up to the power tool company to just adopt the standard and go for it.

Touching on putting multiple charging pads in a car – does the future mean bigger and better pads for all?

Clark: It depends on if it’s conductive power. Right now, everybody is enamored with inductive power, which is coil-based wireless charging. I think we’re going to get better at it, but when you get to a certain point of power – I think its somewhere around 25 watts […] – shielding becomes important. It’s not about “Can we do it?” It’s about “Is it safe biologically?” Trust me – Ford, Chrysler, they’re all over it. None of us will bring something dangerous into a vehicle. But in a home, you can get away with a lot more. No, you should not sleep with your wireless charging pad next to your bed, and no, you shouldn’t power a television with it […] Shielding is where the future of wireless power is. Can you shield and make everything safe? Can you make sure those radio frequencies don’t come out further than where they need to, so that they only power what needs to be powered? That’s the future of wireless power. It’s not about how much you can produce; it’s about how well you can contain it. How well can you shield it?

About the Experts

Gregg Clark: Clark has over 12 years of experience in wireless charging in both consumer and automotive electronics. With JVIS USA LLC, he launched the world’s first wireless charging system in a vehicle (Dodge Dart). FCA was nominated for Automotive Technology of the Year at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Since that milestone, JVIS has launched 20 different vehicles with 6 different OEM Automotive Brands.