Our roads may soon recharge our cars. While a distant prospect for the family minivan, it's already a reality for some mass transit systems around the world. The UK's first wireless electric bus route will arrive in the British city of Milton Keynes next summer.
New electric busses, replacing old diesel ones, will spend about 10 minutes parked over electrified metal coils in the road to recharge during their daily routes covering 450,000 miles each year.
Once considered speculative, wireless vehicle charging is quickly becoming an "inevitable technology," says Jeff Muhs, director of strategy and business development for the Energy Dynamics Laboratory at Utah State University. Universities and companies have found the technology practical for stationary recharging several years ahead of expectations and are now working out how to recharge cars driving down the highway at 65 MPH.
The future of transportation will be part of The Atlantic's Big Science Summit, which will be held in San Jose, CA on Oct. 30.
"What makes this concept exciting is that you could potentially drive for an unlimited amount of time without having to recharge," said Richard Sassoon, the managing director of the Global Climate and Energy Project at Stanford University in a university release. "You could actually have more energy stored in your battery at the end of your trip than you started with."
Wireless charging works by sending an electrical current through metal coils embedded in the pavement. Beneath the vehicle, a second coil tuned to the same frequency, resonates through a phenomenon called magnetic resonance coupling. This transfers electrical energy through the air to a paired coil in the vehicle. Stanford researchers predict such a system can transfer 97 percent of the energy it handles if designed well, according to findings published in Applied Physics Letters last year.
Beyond Milton Keynes, the University of Utah has installed Salt Lake City's first wireless recharging bus system, and a racing team in England will test the technology at pit stops. Although still decades from mass production, wireless charging could upend a central assumption that has defined a century of vehicle design: the energy needs to be onboard.
As roadways and parking spots become charging stations, fuel tanks and batteries can shrink dramatically. You may never have to make another pit stop again -- at least not for the car.