Gov. Patrick Sees the Bright Future for Technology Developed by Watertown's WiTricity
The wireless charging technology developed by the company on Grove Street has a range of possible uses from cell phones to electric cars.
Imagine charging your cell phone just by putting it on your hallway table or having lamps you can put anywhere in the room because they don’t have a wire, or even an electrical car that can be charged without plugging in into a special charging station. Gov. Deval Patrick saw these and other prototypes developed by Watertown-based WiTricity Corp. Tuesday afternoon.
He visited WiTricity as part of his effort to learn about and highlight innovative companies in Massachusetts. He was impressed with what he saw on his tour.
“Wow! It makes me excited about the possibilities,” Patrick said. “And it makes me proud that it happened in Massachusetts and here in Watertown.”
Uses of Wireless Charging
The WiTricity technology uses coils of wire to transmit electricity wirelessly to batteries when they within a certain distance of the coils. The charge can go through solid objects, such as wood, plastic and ice, said CEO Eric Giler, when he showed the governor around the facility on Grove Street.
The company has a side table with coils underneath to use as a demonstration.
“Imagine, coming home and throwing a bag there and it’s charging,” Giler said. “It’s great because you don’t have to think about it.”
Co-founder Aristeidis Karalis showed off a prototype of a left-ventricle assist device that can be recharged without plugging in. The design would be a big improvement over products currently available for people using the device – typically people waiting for a heart transplant.
“Now they have to have a wire coming out of their body to recharge the battery,” Karalis said. “The patients have about a two-year life expectancy. The wire is an open wound and it causes infections.”
Giler drives around in a BMW outfitted with an electric engine that charges while he is at work. All he does is drive it into the manufacturing area of the company and stop it on top mats with of coils inside.
“It takes about four hours,” said Giler, who said it has about a 90-mile range before needing to recharge.
Charging similar cars by plugging into a household outlet would take about 16 hours, he said.
The technology has a variety of different uses, Giler said, from solar panels to household appliances.
The cost of running a car like his BMW would be too much for most people, but if the batteries could be made smaller and therefore cheaper, Giler said, they would be more popular. To do so, charging would have to be more available.
Giler said it would be possible to put coils in the road to recharge the cars.
“The electrical service is there already,” Giler said.
He was at a conference in Utah recently and the state of Utah will have a test program putting coils in some roads in the state.
State Sen. Will Brownsberger, who joined Patrick on the tour, said they would only need to put the coils on the highly traveled roads.
Some of the most interested groups are public transportation networks, Giler said. The coils could replace overhead wires.
The possibilities for public transportation intrigued Patrick.
“It might help us with public transportation,” Patrick said. “There are still questions that have to be answered, but it is something we should look into.”
Doing Business in Watertown
WiTricity moved into the building on Grove Street in Watertown in 2010. Giler said the location, real estate prices and welcoming atmosphere were pluses for Watertown.
“The difference in prices between here and Cambridge – I’d say it’s half the price –and you are practically in Cambridge,” Giler said. “(Watertown) is very business friendly, very convenient and there is great takeout nearby.”
You will not see WiTricity brand items on store shelves, but Giler said other companies will use the company’s technology in their projects. One company interested in using the wireless charging technology in their products is Haier, Giler said.
He hopes to take the company public within the next year.