One of the thorniest issues facing the mass adoption of electric-only vehicles is the time it takes to charge them – plugging in for a couple hours seems cumbersome for anyone wanting to drive more than just to work and back. There have been several solutions proposed, such as waiting for advances in battery technology, battery-swapping stations, and improving charging standards and infrastructure. A group of engineers in South Korea, however, have proposed and tested an idea that is totally different: letting the road charge your vehicle while you drive.
The scientists from South Korea’s acclaimed KAIST University have already begun work on a project that aims to lay induction strips on city roadways to charge fleets of buses and cars. They would be about 20 to 90 centimeters wide and several hundred meters long. Vehicles that are outfitted with sensors and magnetic devices would be able to receive power through a process called inductive charging, without coming into direct contact with the strips. Additionally, cars will be outfitted with a very small battery that can provide additional range.
Safety issues are expected to be minimal as humans and animals would be able to touch the strips without receiving a shock.
A few buses on KAIST campus are already making use of the technology, and the capital of Seoul, with its population of 10 million and fleet of 9,000 gasoline-powered buses, has promised to set aside funds to construct the roadway charging system. Test runs are expected to start within a year.
The engineers at KAIST were provided government grants of $50 million to fund two projects, one of which led to this development. It is unclear, however, what the costs would be to extend this idea to a major city. One spokesman at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology estimates the price at $318,000 per kilometer of road. That does not include the cost of upgrading vehicles. It seems feasible that a small fleet of buses running along a lightly travelled route can be used as a test scenario.
Undoubtedly, many cities around the globe will be watching the initial test-runs in Seoul. Yet with so many varying proposals for electric-vehicle technology coming out, it is hard to predict which model, or models, will finally prevail.