Google wants wireless charging for its driverless cars

Google is testing self-driving electric cars of its own design in California and Texas as part of an ongoing project to perfect the technology. And it’s possible the next stage of development for these driverless electric cars could involve wireless charging.

Filings with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) indicate Google is testing wireless-charging equipment from two different companies, according to the IEEE Spectrum. In February 2015 Hevo Power received permission from the FCC to install a wireless charging station at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California. And in July, Momentum Dynamics received permission to install equipment at an address that matches that of Google’s “X” division, which is in charge of autonomous-car development.

Both companies’ charging stations use magnetic resonance induction. This involves using a magnetic field to channel current between a plate mounted on the underside of a car, and another embedded in the pavement. The unit Hevo installed for Google is a 1.5-kilowatt prototype called “Alpha.” The specifications of Momentum’s device were not listed in the FCC filing, but the company has reportedly claimed to develop transmitters that can handle up to 200 kW.

While Google isn’t discussing the use of wireless charging, some analysts believe it is a logical feature for self-driving cars. Part of the anticipated benefit of autonomous vehicles is that they will allow people with disabilities to gain mobility, and if someone isn’t physically able to drive, they may not be able to plug in a charging cord. Tesla was likely thinking along these lines with its bizarre “snake” automated charging cord, which could be paired with the company’s autonomous-driving features.

Cutting the cord would seem to be appealing to many drivers, but wireless charging is still in its infancy. While a handful of companies including Hevo, Momentum, and Plugless Power offer charging equipment and have engaged in research projects, the deployment of this infrastructure doesn’t have the momentum of conventional charging stations.