HaloIPT, an Auckland-based tech company, is realising a dream straight out of the future – wirelessly transmitted energy.
Named as one of the finalists in this year's NZ Innovation Awards HaloIPT is turning a university project into commercial reality.
A busy and productive urban centre without pollution or traffic noise might sound like a daydream, but we’re closer to it than you might think. Electric vehicles are quiet, have no exhaust fumes, and are environmentally sustainable when charged from a “clean” energy source. They’ve also been around for longer than you might think, from the humble British milk float to the public bus operating at Rotorua Thermal Park since 1996.
Private electric cars, such as the Nissan LEAF and the Mitsubishi iMiev, have already hit the market in Europe and Japan, and are about to arrive in New Zealand. In fact, Wellington City Council has been trialing eight iMievs, with the intention of getting to grips with the nascent technology ahead of time.
The cars have significantly lower servicing and running costs; the iMiev’s cost per kilometre is half that of a petrol-powered car. On the downside, the battery takes seven hours to fully charge, plugged in to a 15-amp socket. That’s been the main barrier to large-scale public uptake. People are, unsurprisingly, not keen to part with around NZ$60,000 for a vehicle they can only use 17 hours a day.
Enter HaloIPT (Inductive Power Transfer), a tech start-up that has invented a way of charging cars quickly and wirelessly by induction via a doormat-sized plate in the ground that matches a plate beneath the car.
So far, HaloIPT has worked with companies such as Rolls Royce to create the ultimate sustainable, silent Phantom, and UK firm Drayson Racing, to develop an all-electric prototype race car.
The technology was developed at the University of Auckland and commercialised by its R&D company Auckland UniServices Limited via a research licence with Japanese company Daifuku.
According to Halo chief executive Dr Anthony Thomson, the lab was experimenting with motor controllers in the early 1990s and discovered a way to get power “across the gap” without wires.
“At the moment the cars are a bit heavy,” says Thomson. “There’s no reason for that, except for the massive battery – they’re supposed to be cheap, light cars.
“It’s like carrying 10 lunches around with you every day. You’re carrying all the energy when you only need a little at a time. The energy can stay in the grid, and you can tap into it as needed.”
The company is already differentiating itself from competitors by offering a smaller unit with more power density.
“It’s a challenge, but it’s helping us in our hunt for new business,” says Thomson. “If we can say it’s the size of a laptop rather than a picnic table, that’s a lot of difference in terms of weight and size.”
After taking on home charging, the company will tackle public and workspace wireless charging, and then stackable power supplies for electric taxi ranks and buses. Long term, its vision is to develop “dynamic charging”, where vehicles will pick up charge from plates embedded in roads and highways on the move.
The company sees electric cars as an extension of an electrified, clean, public transport system, and predicts the change to electric will affect more than which brand of car we drive.
“Cities at the moment are built around cars,” Thompson says. “The reason we don’t have open windows in office buildings and need so much air conditioning is vehicle noise and pollution. If we had quiet, clean cars, the middle of the city would also end up being a nicer place for human beings.”