High-Tech Manhole Covers Wirelessly Charging Cars

When it comes to innovation, some old-school car companies are speeding ahead. Nine automotive companies – including Ford (NYSE:F), Toyota (NYSE:TM) and BMW – ranked in the top 20 of Boston Consulting Group’s list of the Most Innovative Companies in 2013.

And some newer-school startups are also hoping to disrupt the car space. NYC-based startup HEVO Power, which launched in 2011, sees a huge market in the road ahead for electric vehicles – and is putting money on the company’s prediction that plug-in stations will soon become a thing of the past.

There are four major problems with plug-in charging stations, according to HEVO Power co-founder Steven Monks. HEVO stands for Hybrid & Electric Vehicle Optimization.

“Drivers forget to plug in all the time. Drivers will also back into kiosks damaging the units. There’s vandalism and theft of the units themselves. And sometimes there’s faulty connectors, and these can damage vehicles, with average repair costs of $14,000,” says Monks.

With these four areas in focus, HEVO created its patent-pending technology, known as electromagnetic resonance, which enables drivers of electric vehicles to park on the charging station and fill up—without any need for a plug. The stations themselves look like manhole covers that can blend into the streetscape.

“What we have found is we are able to charge vehicles at the same comparable rates as plug-in stations, at the same efficiencies as plug-in stations,” says Jeremy McCool, HEVO Power’s co-founder and CEO.

Partnering with NYU Poly

McCool’s U.S. Army service as an infantry platoon leader in Baghdad during the Iraq War qualified HEVO Power to receive a $50,000 Veterans-Affairs grant, which enabled the company early on to build its proof of concept.

Today, HEVO Power has a joint-development deal with NYU Poly, where they work with 12 student engineers to develop HEVO’s technology.

NYU Poly’s involvement extends beyond just technical support. The school is also HEVO Power’s first customer, purchasing two charging stations that will be installed in Washington Square.

“Very public in an area where we can get people to see this is happening and really take a view, in essence, of what’s the next stage for charging,” says McCool. The school had not previously invested in electric vehicles, but it recently purchased two SMART cars to pair with the charging stations.

“It’s quite an investment, but they see it as an investment in the future,” says McCool. He says NYU has become increasingly interested in building up an electric fleet after Hurricane Sandy, when gas became a very hot commodity for East Coast residents.

The Market for Electric Vehicles

In the short term, HEVO Power is focusing primarily on commercial electric fleets, like those already in use by Pepsi and Frito-Lay, says Monks.

While there are thousands of different types and classes of electric vehicles in use nationally, there are about 100 electric, medium-duty box vehicles in use in New York City, which is the type of urban environment the co-founders say they are looking to get into.  As cities begin to incentivize the use of electric vehicles through economic mandates, McCool predicts 300,000 electric vehicles will be in use by 2020, greatly expanding the market for HEVO Power.

But not everyone is convinced electric vehicles are going anywhere fast.

Earlier this week, Toyota Chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada said his company would be focusing solely on hybrid vehicles and hydrogen fuel cells, rather than entering into the electric market.

In an interview after a speech at the Economic Club in Washington, D.C., The Wall Street Journal reports Uchiyamada said, “The reason why Toyota doesn’t introduce any major [all-electric product] is because we do not believe there is a market to accept it.”

But that doesn’t change McCool and Monks’ outlook. In fact, the co-founders are already envisioning an expansion beyond the commercial market to address the needs of individual consumers.

“Our technology is quite adaptable, because of the technological problems we’ve solved in trying to bring a real solution to commercial fleets,” says Monks. “We can charge basically anything out there and we do have our eyes on those markets.”

McCool agrees: “We see those going from loading docks to parking lots to wireless highways. What we’re trying to do is build a community where there’s no more cords, cables or wires.”