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FLO partners with WiTricity, Hubject to develop new EV charger tech

FLO working to implement both wireless and plug-and-charge systems

IMAGE: FLO and WiTricity
A Mustang Mach E with FLO and WiTricity's logos. (Courtesy FLO)

Smart charging solutions provider FLO is working with WiTricity Corp. and Hubject Inc. to advance wireless electric vehicle (EV) charging as well as plug-and-charge technology for its next-generation portfolio.

“Our goal is to support all the connectors that the vehicles come standard with. But I've worked in several industries, and we all know that humans are inherently looking for the easiest path or the path of least resistance in our day-to-day,” Nathan Yang, FLO’s chief product officer, told SustainableBiz.

“So wireless charging solves a lot of the challenges associated with even having cables and also, for the end-user, is sort of the easiest route. You don't have to plug anything in, you just have to park in a spot, and it will start charging.”

The plug-and-charge collaboration with Hubject would allow EV drivers to plug in and begin charging without using an app, RFID card or separate method of payment.

FLO, the largest EV charging network in Canada, is headquartered in Quebec City. It was founded in 2009 as a subsidiary of AddÉnergie Technologies Inc.

Over 95,000 of its fast and Level 2 charging stations, assembled in Michigan and Quebec, have been installed at public, private and residential locations across North America.

FLO and WiTricity

FLO has licensed the use of Watertown, Mass.-based WiTricity’s technology and is testing options for FLO stations to charge vehicles without cables using WiTricity’s Halo EV charging system. The companies are co-developing the technology for FLO’s chargers.

According to Yang, WiTricity owns the core IP for wireless charging in moving vehicles, comparing it to the inductive charging found in smartphones.

The biggest issue with EV charging, Yang explained, is that “a large percentage of them don’t work in the field.” While the same issues could persist with wireless charging, FLO is working to ensure its wireless chargers work through snow or ice, for example.

The company is using a Mustang Mach E as a test vehicle for the wireless charging systems.

There is no firm timeline for when the wireless-integrated FLO chargers may debut. That’s because any widespread integration largely falls to automakers and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to kickstart.

“The biggest barrier for adoption is that the car manufacturers (have) to make it as an option,” Yang explained. “Because of the way that the wireless charging pass needs to cool, it needs to be mounted on the battery pack, likely into the cooling system of the battery pack and that voids the warranty of the battery pack.”

He referenced Tesla’s August acquisition of the German wireless charging startup, Wiferion GmbH, which also uses WiTricity’s IP.

“You can imagine what Tesla is trying to do with that,” Yang said. “I think once the first car manufacturer implements this as standard or optional on their vehicles with the warranty, with the service and everything included . . . I think that will trigger a domino effect that more and more (automakers) will have this as an option or standard on their vehicles.

FLO and Hubject

The Hubject project is designed to offer more convenient charging.

“Ideally, you plug your vehicle into our chargers, and it automatically starts charging. It knows who you are and knows that you have an existing account or credit card, and it just starts charging and billing you,” Yang said.

"It is able to authenticate your car, authenticate you and start charging. That does not currently really exist in a car-agnostic and charge-agnostic way in North America.”

Yang stated he’s been in contact with Hubject since he joined FLO two-and-a-half years ago. This is more of a traditional collaboration, with the companies working together on encryption technology. The plan is to add the technology to all of FLO’s chargers, including its Ultra fast chargers, which enter production early next year.

FLO states its Ultra fast chargers can charge most EVs to 80 per cent in 15 minutes.

"What we actively do on our chargers in our day-to-day, is trying to make sure that our chargers work with the Hyundai Genesis, that they work with the Mustang Mach E, that it works with the new Cadillac Escalade EVs,” Yang said.

“So that's part of our day-to-day and we know the uniqueness of each car manufacturers’ implementation of the communication protocol.”

As with WiTricity, the Hubject collaboration is not under a strict timeline – it is instead focused on anticipating widespread adoption of plug-and-charge technology from OEMs and automakers.

“Let's say they're ready in 12 months, we want to be able to build that in 12 months.”

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