WiTricity acquires Qualcomm Halo to accelerate wireless charging for electric vehicles


WiTricity, a venture capital (VC)-backed startup that’s developing wireless charging technology for electric vehicles (EVs), has acquired Qualcomm’s EV wireless charging unit Halo.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Qualcomm said it will become a minority shareholder in WiTricity as a result of the transaction.

Challenge

While the EV market is still modest compared to petrol and diesel, it is expected to grow significantly over the next decade — EV sales grew by more than 80 percent last year in the U.S. alone, and major carmakers are already committed to making hybrid or electric cars only from this year.

But one of the big challengs facing EV makers is the issue of charging: in short, it can be a real pain. And that is why a number of companies have been looking at ways not only to extend the range car’s can achieve in a single charage, but to make the charging process seamless.

WiTricity, a company spun out of the Massachusettes Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2007, has been at the forefront of this push, and has raised nearly $40 million from big names such as Intel and Foxconn to spearhead its research and development.

Qualcomm, for its part, may be better known for its smartphone chip business, but with cars increasingly serving as extensions to consumers’ connected mobile devices, Qualcomm has also pushed out into the automotive realm.

Qualcomm Halo emerged in 2012 following the chip giant’s acquisition of HaloIPT a year previous, and it has previously demonstrated its so-called “dynamic charging” on test tracks — electric cars of the future could be capable of charging as they move. For now, though, wireless charging for EVs is limited to stationary “parked” situations.

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The technology uses inductive charging to transfer electricity through the air between magnetic coils fitted to the road and the car. Earlier this year, BMW became the first of the major car companies to announce a vehicle with wireless charging capabilities out of the box.

If drivers no longer have to worry about where their next charge is coming from, this could impact EV uptake more than any other factor. Additionally, it could have a big influence on self-driving car development which will need to find a way to recharge without human involvement.

“WiTricity’s wireless charging technology is key to the future of mobility which is clearly electric, and increasingly shared and autonomous,” noted WiTricity CEO Alex Gruzen. “EV drivers and fleets demand a simple, effortless charging experience.”

Consolidation

WiTricity’s Halo acquisition involves “certain technology platform and IP assets,” constituting more than 1,500 patents and patent applications relating to wireless EV charging, according to a statement released by the companies.

“Bringing the Qualcomm Halo technology into the WiTricity portfolio will simplify global interoperability and significantly accelerate commercialization,” Gruzen added. “This is an exciting day for WiTricity, for automakers, for prospective EV buyers, and ultimately for any company deploying fleets of autonomous vehicles.”

Following the dollars elsewhere shows how competitive the EV industry is becoming. Oil giant Shell recently snapped up Greenlots to turbo charge its electric vehicle charging efforts across North America, while ChargePoint raised a chunky $240 million to expand its electric vehicle charging network — ChargePoint, as it happens, is also investing in wireless charging development.

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Wireless EV charging may still be in its infancy, but WiTricity and Qualcomm’s Halo consolidation should go some way toward accelerating these efforts.

“Qualcomm is confident that combining WEVC (wireless electric vehicle charging) under WiTricity’s leadership will create accessibility to and demand by customers for this exciting technology,” added Steve Pazol, Qualcomm advisor for wireless charging.



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