BMW, Qualcomm, Bring Wirelessly-Charging BMW i3, i8 Safety Cars to Formula E

It’s a technology being developed by many major automakers around the world including BMW, Nissan, Honda and Toyota— and it’s already being used in various pilot projects around the world.

The all-new FIA-approved Formula E race series also makes use of wireless technology to charge each of the Renault-SRT01E race cars taking part, allowing high-power recharges to take place in the pit lane between races and car swaps.

Wirelessly charging BMW i3 and i8 electric cars are being tested by Formula E as official safety cars.

Wirelessly charging BMW i3 and i8 electric cars are being tested by Formula E as official safety cars.

But now Formula E, working alongside BMW and Qualcomm Halo, has bridged the gap between road-going production electric cars and wireless charging technology by equipping the BMW electric cars used by Formula E as official course cars with wireless charging technology. What’s more, the technology could be ready for mass-market vehicles by 2017.

The four cars in question — two BMW i3 and two BMW i8 models — have been specially adapted to meet FIA-approved track car standard, as well getting the added wireless charging technology to allow them to fully test the technology in a real-world environment.

Wireless charging involves fitting a special inductive receiver on the underside of the vehicle and an inductive charging pad on the ground. When parked over the top of the charging pad, resonant magnetic induction is used to transfer energy from the charging pad to the receiver pad on the underside of the car, enabling the battery pack to be charged without connecting any wires to the vehicle.

The cars themselves, which will operate as official safety cars for each race, will be placed at the end of the pit lane during races, wirelessly charging and ready to spring into action when required during each practice, qualifying session and race.

While many plug-in fans feel wireless charging is overkill at the present time, the application of wireless charging is perfectly suited for the high-drama, safety-conscious world of motor sport.

Wireless charging requires no wires between the charging station and the car.

Wireless charging requires no wires between the charging station and the car.

Firstly, there are no cables to get tangled on — a major concern for any pit lane — and secondly, wireless charging means cars can be driven away instantly without having to remember to unplug them first. In applications like safety cars, where medical first responders need to respond instantly, that’s essential.

As with the world of gasoline-powered motor racing, electric car racing is the perfect test-bed for new technologies before they enter into the mainstream automotive market. Wireless technology is no exception.

Qualcomm Halo, the company responsible for developing the wireless charging technology used in all Formula E race cars and on the BMW safety cars, says it is working with several car manufacturers already. As Dr. Antony Thomson, vice president of business development and marketing for Qualcomm Halo told Auto Express last week, its wireless charging technology will likely be in a production vehicle within the next three years.

At first, he said, the wireless technology will be found in higher-ticket luxury plug-in cars, but as the cost of the technology drops, expect wireless charging to become available across all types of electric vehicles.

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  • Formula E is really exciting, hopefully for electric car fans and race fans alike.