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Qualcomm Racing to Create Wireless Charging for Electric Cars

Formula E racing in Berlin on July 11, 2013. Photographer: FIA Formula E
Formula E racing in Berlin on July 11, 2013. Photographer: FIA Formula E

Sept. 9 (Bloomberg) -- Qualcomm Inc. made a splash last week when it unveiled the Toq smartwatch, which charges without being plugged in. That same technology will soon be used on bigger, faster gadgets: race cars.

The company’s Halo system, acquired in 2011, will become part of the new FIA Formula E race series beginning next year with events in cities including London, Rome and Los Angeles. Electric speedsters built by the likes of France’s Spark Racing Technology will reach 60 miles per hour in less than three seconds and top out at over 130 miles per hour on city streets.

Fans have to sit tight. By year two or three of the race series, Halo should be ready to shine. Qualcomm’s system uses a technology that transmits electricity between two coils resonating at the same frequency to charge the cars while they’re racing. Pads in the road will transmit electricity to the autos as they zoom past.

Because the system won’t be ready for the inaugural season, the first batch of FIA Formula E drivers will still face so-called face range anxiety, or the concern that when the battery is drained, the vehicle has to be plugged in. Year one drivers whose cars run low will be required to sprint 100 meters to replacement vehicles.

Ultimately, racing is just a testing ground for Qualcomm, which is best known as the largest supplier of chips that run mobile phones. The San Diego-based company is going after the broader market of electric car drivers who aren’t satisfied with the limited mileage that comes from a single charge.

City Centers

All of the Formula E races will take place in city center circuits meaning that the infrastructure put in place for the races will become available for use by drivers who use the roads to get to work and go shopping.

“Once the race is done and gone, the pads are still there,” said Qualcomm Chief Marketing Officer Anand Chandrasekher. “We are big believers in wireless charging. It’s not a question of if but when.”

Qualcomm isn’t expecting any revenue in the short term, Chandrasekher said, and is instead aiming to promote awareness and eventually widespread adoption.

The company is also appealing to the environmental awareness and technological savvy of a younger audience, said Chandrasekher. On street circuits much of the track is hidden from view, so the company will provide wireless technology to let viewers follow cars using 3-D mapping on their phones.

And unlike Formula 1 fans, Formula E race goers won’t face the earsplitting 130-decibel-level engine noise. At around 80 decibels, Formula E cars will be quiet enough to let crowd members hear and use their mobile phones.

Yet another benefit to Qualcomm.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ian King in San Francisco at ianking@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Pui-Wing Tam at ptam13@bloomberg.net

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