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Toyota makes multi-million-dollar investment in WiTricity Corp., developer of wireless car-charging technology

Posted by Scott Kirsner  April 27, 2011 04:10 PM

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WiTricity Corp. of Watertown, a start-up that is focused on developing a wireless charging system for electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids, landed quite the big fish today: a collaboration with, and strategic investment from, Toyota Motor Company, the world's largest car-maker. Toyota, of course, has been a pioneer in hybrid vehicles, and is about to introduce a plug-in version of its Prius hybrid in the U.S.

WiTricity envisions a system built into electric cars and plug-in hybrids that would obviate the need to worry about plugging them in to charge when you get home in the evening or unplugging them when you depart in the morning. Instead, a mat on your garage's floor would convey electricity to a small "receiving coil" built into the car, using an approach called resonant magnetic coupling.

"The collaboration," according to Toyota's press release, "is aimed to accelerate development and eventual implementation of wireless charging for automobiles." Toyota also snubbed a competing technology, magnetic induction, in its release.

WiTricity CEO Eric Giler says Toyota's investment is part of a fourth round of funding the company is currently raising from strategic investors, as opposed to venture capital firms. He wouldn't be specific about the amount Toyota has invested, other than to say that it is in the "single digit millions." (WiTricity has raised just over $15 million previously.)

Giler's hope is that Toyota's interest in exploring WiTricity's technology will help establish WiTricity as a de facto standard for wireless charging, although the Japanese carmaker hasn't yet committed to integrating it into any forthcoming models.

Plug-in hybrids like the Prius have both gasoline and electric motors, and they use electricity from the grid to charge their batteries when they're parked near an outlet, to cut gas consumption. All-electric vehicles like Nissan's Leaf only have electric motors. Both need to be plugged in.

Last September, Delphi Automotive, a major parts supplier to carmakers, announced that it would help promote WiTricity's technology.

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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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