Take your energy from the road.
Boys is in Wellington with his fellow Auckland University Professor Grant Covic tomorrow, Thursday, to give the Pickering Lecture in memory of New Zealand scientist Dr William Pickering who famously ran NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory for many years.
Boys and Grant Covic developed a revolutionary Inductive Power Transfer (IPT) system - they named it Halo - which enables large amounts of electricity to flow - across a gap of up to 40cms - without wires.
Their invention is set to make electric vehicles everywhere faster, cheaper, and easier to use, and, for example, to do away with the expensive and unsightly overhead wires which power Wellington’s trolley buses.
Simply put, an electrical current flowing through a wire induces a magnetic field around the wire. If another wire is run through the magnetic field a current is produced in that second wire.
It’s the method used in the Terrace Tunnel to light those lights in the middle of the road which demarcate the lanes.Those lights are not wired directly to the electricity, but powered by wires set in the ground a few centimetres below the lights. The advantage is that the lights need almost no maintenance, whereas before, they would need regular replacement because the slight movements caused by cars continually driving across them eventually breaks the wires connecting them to the power source.
The university holds a number of patents for the ideas dreamed up by Boys and Covic, and an early association with Japanese company Daifuku means that 70 percent of all the flat screen displays on the world market now include their IPT technology licensed by the University of Auckland.
Halo was sold last year to the US firm Qualcomm, a major manufacturer of chips for cellphones, for “ an undisclosed but very large amount of money” in what Boys says was certainly the biggest sale of intellectual property by a university or crown research institute ever done in New Zealand, and probably Australia. The IP remains with the university.
The advances, Boys says, have only been possible since 1990 because of improvements in wiring, electronic switches, capacitors and brushless motors.
He laughs that the best thing for him in those twenty odd years is that it’s been “so much fun.” His enthusiasm is infectious.
“It’s the off the wall ideas which do it. You have to work out all the problems which stop an idea working, and solve them, but there are advantages in that because if you’re first in and solve a problem you can patent the solution”.
The pair hold many international patents for their inventions.
“The technology has huge potential for electric vehicle transport in New Zealand and the world”, says Boys, “because electric vehicles are coming.”
He notes that there are already extremely powerful and fast electric sports cars and there may soon be an electric Formula 1 race, and adds that there are electric drag racing cars beating petrol powered drag racers.
But he says the use of batteries to provide their motive electricity wastes up to 25 percent of the electricity supplied to them,
He envisages charging pads under roads so that Halo can provide power directly to electric cars and buses while they travel at as much as 120 kph, bypassing the need to take electricity from the batteries.
“This will enable batteries, which are expensive and heavy, to be a quarter the size and weight they need be now, allowing electric vehicles to be lighter, faster, and cheaper to buy and run.”
Boys notes that Wellington’s trolleybuses take electricity from overhead wires which are unsightly and expensive to maintain. At the moment the Wellington Regional Council plans to spend $36 million over the next ten years to maintain overhead trolleybus wires. He says that in future most vehicles, including electric buses will take their motive power from pads below the road which require almost no maintenance.
It will be expensive to install charging pads, but not a lot relative to the cost of building the roads, and the consequent savings will be large.
He points out that electricity suppliers worry about an enormous spike in future electricity use caused by people all arriving home and plugging in their electric vehicles for recharging at around the same time after work. He’s got ideas…
The Future of Road Technology, 2012 Pickering Lecture, Soundings Theatre, Te Papa, 6.30pm, October 11.