The Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) has successfully launched a bus powered by wireless electricity in Gumi, South Korea. Unlike electric cars or trains that need to plug-in for charging or get power from overhead wires, respectively, Online Electric Vehicle (OLEV) technology allows vehicles to drive and charge freely.
The bus line in Gumi, a 12 kilometer route between its airport and In-dong district, runs two buses with OLEV equipment. Only up to 15 percent of the route needed to have electric cables installed in the roadbed; the cables carry 100 kW of power that is picked up by coils on the bottom of the bus through electromagnetic induction. The batteries used by the buses are one-third the size of a typical electric car battery.
The technology is still in its infancy and is being studied by several research institutions around the world. Although the cost of installation is high now, it could be used for private automobiles in the future. Dr. Paul Nieuwenhuis from the Centre for Automotive Industry Research at Cardiff University said, “There is clearly a lot of potential for this technology for public transport applications, but for private electric vehicles the cost of fitting all roads with such systems may be prohibitive.”
For cities that want to reduce pollution and the clutter of charging stations and overhead wires, OLEV technology is an ideal option for public transportation. Installing cables on fixed routes, rather than all roads, may be more feasible for cities even if the technology comes down in costs.
Looking even further into the future, I happen to have some expertise on the subject. In a sophomore architecture studio I worked on a project that imagined the architecture of “electric highways“. I took the idea a step further and imagined the development a nationwide ‘maglev’ train network. Magnetic-levitation is powered by the same technology as the bus line, and such trains would be able to safely attain speeds up to 400 mph. You can see my work on the project at the studio’s blog.
For the near future in the U.S., a national charging station network is being developed. Right now the West Coast Green Highway project is managing chargers along Interstate 5 and other Pacific Northwest routes with partnerships between public agencies and businesses. And the entrepreneurial Elon Musk of Tesla Motors plans a coast-to-coast battery swap station network that will speed up trips by skipping the charging process altogether.
It appears the electric vehicle age is gaining momentum and will only continue to grow as gas prices increase and pollution is mitigated.