Two Kiwi scientists' dream of highways being filled with electric cars that drive without ever having to fill up or plug in has taken a big step closer to reality.
Two major US companies have just announced a major deal to bring wireless electric vehicle charging pioneered by University of Auckland professors, John Boys and Grant Covic, to a range of electric and hybrid plug-in vehicles across the globe.
The license agreement between US Fortune 500 companies Qualcomm and Lear Corporation would enable the widely-used, Kiwi-designed tech in new models by multiple car companies.
The pair's inductive power transfer technology essentially makes it possible for power to be transferred without cables, instead transporting the current across the magnetic field between two close points.
When Qualcomm bought it for $70 million from the university's commercial arm UniServices in 2011, it was believed to have been the most successful deal for any New Zealand university or crown research institute start-up company.
The innovation has its roots in an accidental discovery Boys and Covic made more than two decades ago, when they became the first in the world to make power jump efficiently and practically across air from one object to another by intersecting two magnetic fields.
At the time, they happened to be trying to make a device effective for making power supplies, but instead created something that could put an enormous amount of current into a wire and control it.
Today, technology is used throughout the world, from factories that depend on automated systems or clean-room environments, to powering artificial hearts and charging electric vehicles.
At least 70 per cent of the world's LCD screens and other electronic equipment requiring computer chips are manufactured on systems using the technology, while car-makers such as Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi also rely on it.
It's also found around the globe in theme park rides and roadway lighting in traffic tunnels throughout the world, including Wellington's Terrace Tunnel.
Using less magnetism than that of a fridge magnet, the tech comes with near zero impact on the environment.
A company, HaloIPT, was spun out to develop the technology further for electric vehicles, with the next frontier being in-road wireless charging, eliminating the need for plug-in battery chargers and enabling cars to recharge as they travel on highways.
Over recent years, their work has attracted more than $20 million in research funding, with more cash coming from license agreements like that just announced in San Diego last week.
Lear will use the tech in its product portfolio to commercialise WEVC systems for plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles manufacturers, as well as wireless charging infrastructure companies.
UniServices technology and development general manager Will Charles said the announcement marked a "major step" towards clean, green electric vehicles being a common sight on our roads by the end of the decade.
"We are really excited to see this development as it puts New Zealand technology on the map and will bring commercial benefits to the university through our partnership with Qualcomm, and represents another milestone in the relationship we have had with Qualcomm since 2011."
Qualcomm has researchers based in Auckland working with the university team, with an aim to refine the technology to enable drivers to charge up while on the move.
Boys and Covic have been widely acknowledged for the innovation and in 2013 were presented New Zealand science's biggest cash award, the $500,000 Prime Minister's Science Prize.