Power up without plugging in
2nd November 2009
Power up without plugging in
World-leading Auckland researchers have been eliminating the need for wires to supply power for 20 years and their technology could soon underpin a new breakthrough – charging electric vehicles.
During the past year, the research team at Auckland UniServices Ltd, The University of Auckland’s commercialisation company, has been substantially expanded. Led by Professor John Boys and Associate Professor Grant Covic, the team is already seeing its unique technology spreading throughout the world. Additionally, Dr Patrick Hu has been leading research for lower power applications which has led to two companies being spun out of the university.
The Foundation for Research, Science and Technology is currently supporting research projects around inductive power transfer (IPT) technology in novel applications, and the Foundation’s business arm, Technology New Zealand, has invested in several of the eight New Zealand companies that are licensed to adapt the technology for wide-ranging applications.
“This is a model of how Foundation support at different points can help turn a great idea into a commercial reality, with initial research principles being proven and leading to commercial applications, and then some lateral thinking resulting in further, new developments,” says the Foundation’s Senior Investment Manager for Manufacturing and ICT Craig Holmes.
IPT uses magnetic fields to transfer power without the need for cables, enabling power to be transmitted across an air gap. It is already powering monorails, industrial systems in vehicle manufacturing plants of BMW, Audi, Mercedes and several Japanese makers and is used in factories producing many of the world’s most popular electronic gadgets where environments, known as clean rooms, depend on being free of contaminants, including dust and bacteria. This is the same technology that is used to charge your electric tooth brush.
“Its greatest advantages are immunity to dust, dirt, water, ice and chemicals, reduced cabling and cable breakage risks, low maintenance, quiet, and multi functional capability, such as power and data transfer. The technology makes broken and exposed wires a thing of the past,” says UniServices Commercialisation Manager, Stephen Flint.
The technology has also been transformed by SmartStud, a unit of Auckland company 3i Innovation, into illuminated road markers. Communication and control features enable the studs to flash in sequence, change colour to automatically open or close motorway lanes, gauge road conditions and traffic flows and report failed studs. The studs are being installed in Europe, Asia and the United States for tunnels, bridges, roads, walkways and pedestrian crossings.
Another Auckland company, PowerbyProxi, is licensed to develop the unplugged power technology and its first export product is a slip ring, which distributes power around rotating joints in industrial equipment without the need for cables. Telemetry Research, a spin out from The University of Auckland, is developing medical devices, such as heart pumps and blood flow monitors that no longer require wires to recharge batteries in the body.
“We see a strong market demand for implantable health devices that are less intrusive than existing systems. It’s good science involving established research teams chasing market opportunities,” says Mr Holmes.
UniServices holds a range of international patents around IPT technology and partners with several large multi-national companies which license and develop the technologies in conjunction with UniServices and The University of Auckland. Japanese company, Diafuku, which has US$3 billion sales annually and employs more than 5,600 people in 19 countries, uses IPT technology in materials handling systems for vehicle manufacturing plants, factory automation and clean rooms, areas in which they are market leaders. Another global partner, Wampfler, a German company and the world’s leading supplier of mobile energy supply and data transmission systems, also uses the technology in automated systems for vehicle manufacturing plants in Europe and North America.
“It’s a success story for New Zealand researchers, with licenses to large companies around the world who are using this technology to manufacture products we use every day and take for granted,” says Mr Flint.
“The continuing IPT development relies on licensing income, development contracts and the Foundation investment which enables the purchase of costly equipment and research opportunities for numerous graduate students and academic staff,” says Mr Flint.
“The government funding is essential, he says, to help keep UniServices ahead of the competition and to continually improve and adapt the technology for new applications.
About the Foundation: The Foundation for Research, Science and Technology invests over $530 million a year on behalf of the New Zealand Government in research and development to enhance the wealth and well being of New Zealanders. TechNZ is the Foundation’s business investment programme. It puts $50 million a year into research and development by New Zealand companies, targeting key sectors of the economy with strong growth potential including specialised manufacturing, information technology, biotechnology and food and beverages.