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WiTricity announces first big auto industry partner for wireless car charging (and oh, by the way, they've raised $15.5 million but forgot to tell you)

Posted by Scott Kirsner  September 29, 2010 12:45 PM

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Watertown-based WiTricity Corp. is announcing its first big partnership in the automotive industry today — or rather, having the partnership announced for it by the chief executive of parts supplier Delphi Automotive, in a speech to the Detroit Economic Club.

WiTricity, an MIT spin-out, makes "wireless energy transfer technology" — in other words, they want to be to electricity what WiFi is to Internet connectivity. The company says it can safely transmit power — as much as several kilowatts — over a couple meters. The partnership with Delphi could lead to charging mats that sit on a garage floor, or are embedded in the pavement of a parking lot, making it unnecessary to plug an electric vehicle into the wall (or, more importantly, to remember to unplug it).

According to today's press release, "The collaboration between the two companies will help establish a global infrastructure of safe and convenient charging options for consumer and commercial electric vehicles." That includes plug-in hybrids (vehicles with both gasoline-driven engines and battery-powered electric motors) and all-electric cars like the Nissan Leaf or Tesla Roadster.

"We're excited about working with Delphi," WiTricity CEO Eric Giler told me recently. "They were one of the quickest on the uptake, as far as saying, 'We've got to get into this.'" But the deal is non-exclusive, and WiTricity remains interested in partnering with other automotive suppliers and car-makers as well.

Earlier this month, WiTricity moved into a rehabbed 20,000-square foot building in Watertown; it features drive-in bays where technicians can work on electric vehicles and charging systems. (The WiTricity technology requires a copper coil in the floor, which conveys electricity through "magnetically coupled resonance" to a receiving coil integrated into the bottom of the car.)

Giler also casually mentioned that the company has raised $15.5 million in total since its 2007 founding, including a Series C round earlier this year that included some strategic investors. (As far as I know, only the company's $4.5 million A round, from Stata Venture Partners and Argonaut Ventures, had previously been reported.) Giler said they may soon look to do a fourth round, probably again with strategic investors.

Here's a diagram of how the car charging system might work in your garage one day (supplied by WiTricity.)

witricity.jpg

Giler says that WiTricity's other big partnership thus far is with the Chinese consumer electronics company Haier. A WiTricity-enabled home entertainment system will be on the market in China early next year, Giler says. A single plug and WiTricity "power source" sends juice to a flatscreen TV, DVD player, and other gear, Giler says.

(Here's a great Detroit News column that offers some background on the last five year's at Delphi, which filed for bankruptcy in 2005. Clearly a company that needs innovation.)

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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