South Korea tests world's first 'electric road'

The new road wirelessly charges vehicles from under the surface

The Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology in South Korea is testing two electric trams in Gumi City that charge wirelessly along 15-mile "electric road."
Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST)

A small South Korean city is testing what is being called the first electric road, a thoroughfare that wirelessly charges electric-powered public buses from underground. The new technology promises to eliminate the need for long hours tethered to a charging station and may offer a solution for the dearth of available infrastructure for electric vehicles.

The Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST), which developed the system, announced last week that the city of Sumi was testing two Online Electric Vehicles, or OLEVs, which are being used as public buses on a 15-mile loop around the city.

The OLEVs wirelessly charge whether moving or parked and without needing to be attached to electric cables strung above the route. Instead, the electric cables are buried under the road surface, creating magnetic fields that are converted into electricity by a receiving device attached to the undercarriage of the vehicle.

What's more, the power strips that house the electric cables are only necessary in 5-15 percent of the road, reducing the need to rebuild entire routes in order to operate OLEVs. Researchers note that the power strips distinguish between OLEVs and regular cars, switching off when the latter drive by.

KAIST says an OLEV battery is about one-third the size of those found in other EVs, making them far more adaptable.  

Dong-Ho Cho, a professor of electrical engineering and director of the Center for Wireless Power Transfer Technology Business Development at KAIST, said in a statement that "This is certainly a turning point for OLEV to become more commercialized and widely accepted for mass transportation in our daily living."

KAIST says OLEV trams are already in use at an amusement park in Seoul and on the KAIST campus.

Boston's Logan Airport has already licensed KAIST's technology to replace all 60 of its buses with OLEVs some time in 2013, according to the website Electric Vehicles Research.

And Boston-based startup OLEV Technologies has licensed KAIST's technology and is developing ways to bring it to market.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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