Unique new 'Aggie Bus' recharges without plugging in

Published: Friday, Nov. 23 2012 2:55 p.m. MST

A wireless electric bus drives through the Utah State University campus Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012, in Logan. Wireless power has been used for years in some consumer devices and in factory power strips. Now engineers say they've perfected it for vehicles with a system tailored for bus transit routes. The university said the technology is notable mainly for transferring a wireless charge through thin air with little loss in energy. Utah State officials hope the new technology turns into a commercial success.

Eli Lucero, Associated Press

LOGAN — Utah State University officials Thursday unveiled a new "Aggie Bus" that runs on electricity but never has to be plugged in to recharge.

"It's elegant, it's efficient and it's the only one of its kind," gushed Robert Behunin, USU's vice president for commercialization.

Billed as a revolutionary new concept in electric-vehicle technology, the bus illustrates a growing effort by Utah's academic institutions to work together with private businesses.

USU scientists and engineers developed the "wireless charging" technology over the last three years. Now a spinoff company called WAVE Inc. is trying to make it into a commercially viable product. The company and the university are angling for a worldwide market, and the two are already sharing revenues.

Except for the blue and white paint job, the new Aggie Bus looks a lot like any other bus. But its backers claim the wireless charging concept sidesteps the biggest problem of running an electric bus.

"Batteries are heavy," said Wesley Smith, CEO of WAVE. "They're slow to recharge, they're very expensive, they take up a lot of space."

The Aggie Bus gets by on much smaller, lighter batteries because it can be conveniently recharged many times in the course of a typical day. It can stop at any properly equipped bus stop and recharge without ever being plugged in.

The technology depends on a phenomenon known as induction, which has been used for decades to charge batteries in products as diverse as cellphones and electric toothbrushes. USU claims to have refined the technology to unprecedented levels of efficiency and practicality.

At a bus stop, an electric transmitting pad can be placed on the ground or even buried in the pavement. A receiving pad is attached to the underside of the bus. The driver simply parks the bus over the pad. Electromagnetic energy flows between the pads, inducing a current in the bus that charges its batteries.

WAVE Inc. says the USU process operates at 90 percent efficiency and across "air-gaps" between the pads of up to 10 inches.

Backers say the Aggie Bus' relatively small batteries make it far more practical than a bus using batteries that have to hold a charge all day long.

"The battery that you would need on that bus," Smith said, "if you plugged it in overnight, charged it overnight and then ran it all day, would be so large, that you wouldn't be able to put any passengers on the bus."

Next summer the University of Utah will start running Aggie Bus technology on a shuttle bus running from a TRAX station to the center of campus. The bus will drive over a pad and recharge every time it stops at the TRAX station.

Because of the deal between WAVE Inc. and the U., USU is already getting a return on its intellectual investment. The company has already given USU its first royalty payment of about $17,000.

E-mail: hollenhorst@desnews.com

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