Norwegian Taxis, Wirelessly Charging While They Wait for a Fare

Starting next year, two dozen specially outfitted electric Jaguar taxis will roam the streets of the very green capital of Norway. And when they are idling at special taxi lines, they will be able to be recharged from the ground up.

This new program in Oslo would be the world’s first, and it brings together a British carmaker, a leading Nordic charge-point company and a former NASA architect who grew up in the Marlboro public housing project near Coney Island.

“In the building where a sniper shot from the roof in ‘The French Connection,’” said the NASA alumnus, Andrew Daga, referring to the 1971 police drama with a memorable car chase.

Today Mr. Daga is the chief executive of Momentum Dynamics in Malvern, Pa. The company, which he co-founded in 2009 with a focus on advanced electric vehicle charging, has been tapped to supply components that, beginning in the first quarter of 2021, will power 25 electric Jaguar I-Pace models for Cabonline/NorgesTaxi in Oslo. Inductive charge pads and associated equipment supplied by Momentum will be placed upon and beneath road surfaces at selected taxi queues, enabling fast, hands-off charging for the I-Pace.

Norwegian lawmakers concerned about carbon emissions have mandated the world’s most rapid transition to electric vehicles; now, with generous tax incentives, the oil-rich country on the North Sea has a car market with the world’s highest percentage of electric sales. Battery electric vehicles captured nearly 50 percent of the market through June, compared with about 2 percent in the United States. Norway is also one of the most successful markets for the roomy I-Pace, which was introduced as a 2019 model (and retails in America for $71,000 and up). Oslo’s ambitious ElectriCity program envisions the city’s taxi ranks filled exclusively with electric vehicles by 2024.

“We think that wireless charging is a potential game-changer,” said Sture Portvik, a manager for electromobility in the Oslo city government, “and we are happy to assist by helping taxi drivers keep moving and not adding cable clutter to the city. By improving infrastructure and providing better charging to the taxi industry, we are confident that by 2024 all taxis in Oslo will be zero emission.”

At current power levels, likely to increase significantly in the next few years, 15 minutes of charging on the Oslo pads will add 50 miles to the cars’ range. With frequent but brief stops during the day, the cars will rarely be fully charged but should always be charged enough.

“That’s the big idea,” Mr. Daga, 61, said. “You don’t need to fill a battery to 100 percent or even 80 percent. You just need to add another 20 percent from wherever you start and you just frequently recharge.

“It’s a concept referred to as grazing rather than guzzling — a partial charge here followed by another partial charge somewhere else and at the end of the day, you can stay in business 24/7,” he continued. “Convenience is a factor, but efficiency is the point.”

Morgan Lind, the chief operating officer of Recharge Infra, a division of the leading Nordic charging company Fortum, called it “the perfect charging technology.”

“It is plainly there without anyone having to change, understand, learn or do,” he added.

Ancillary benefits are substantial, too. They include eliminating conventional charge points, which hog sidewalk space, and extending life for batteries and system components that, thanks to being underground, won’t be exposed to the elements. And because of their convenient locations and short-burst charging, there will be less downtime, music to the ears of fleet owners and taxi drivers alike. Software developed by Momentum will enable monthly billing to note each charging event.

Mr. Daga’s company began supplying systems for electric bus trials in four American cities in 2015, and started work recently with a major European manufacturer on an urban delivery truck program. Meanwhile, a new engineering collaboration is underway with the Chinese E.V. engineering powerhouse Geely, owner of Volvo, Lotus and the London Electric Vehicle Company (the former London Taxi International), though Mr. Daga was mum on details.

With few competitors as yet, Mr. Daga anticipates they will arrive. “One company won’t be responsible for setting that up for the entire planet,” he said. However, his expansionist faith lies in his belief in the strength of his closely held company’s patents and the observation that “everything that moves — from people to parcels and packages, laundry and lobsters — has to be moved by something that has wheels, whether it’s a forklift or a truck or even a train.” And all those wheels will need power.

The lofty hope is that the new system will prove the efficacy of a wireless charging infrastructure and will be deployed virtually anywhere, speeding the adoption of electric vehicles, which many see as a key element in the decarbonization of transportation.

Mr. Daga and Momentum are building a new 90,000-square-foot headquarters in Malvern and planning to double staff to over 100 people in 2021. The Oslo program is more than a proof of concept for this company: It is the first commercial application of Momentum’s technology and the realization of a dream almost a dozen years in the making.

“There was never a question in my mind in the entire period since that this was the right thing to do,” Mr. Daga said. “It was almost a mission that I was on.”

Mr. Daga moved as a teenager from Brooklyn — an alumnus of Public School 95 — to Ithaca, N.Y., where his Italian father, a waiter, opened a popular restaurant, the Elba Kitchen. He studied architecture at Cornell, but his father’s death led him to transfer to Temple University in Philadelphia. After Mr. Daga graduated in the early 1980s, NASA approached him, and before long he was working on the International Space Station.

Momentum’s essential breakthrough came from Mr. Daga’s encounter with a Bucknell University electrical engineering professor, Bruce Long, with whom he would found the company. Mr. Long, who died in 2018, had developed crucial wireless charging knowledge while working in Antarctica on missions to measure the movement and depth of the continent’s glaciers for Pennsylvania State University’s geophysics program.

“One of the things that you need in Antarctica is a means of powering electronic devices without opening their cases, because the blowing snow will get into the case if you open it,” Mr. Daga said. “So Bruce had been thinking about wireless power for some time and applied it to our program, but at a much, much higher power level than he’d originally conceived. That was the kernel of the intellectual property, and it began to grow from there. Now we’ve got a bit of a forest.”

He added: “I have wireless chargers for my phones, and I don’t use them much because there’s no compelling reason to do that for a phone. But it is a compelling reason to do it for a 5,000-pound, moving vehicle.”

There will be inductive charging at home, Mr. Daga anticipates, but for now the goal is to convert fleets over to electricity faster.

“The taxi fleets and transit authorities of various cities that run buses need to have the lowest possible cost system for refueling those vehicles,” he said.

Autonomous vehicles — cars with no drivers — working urban and suburban routes will be particularly well suited to wireless, touchless charging systems, Mr. Daga contended.

“That’s what wireless power does,” he said. “It automates the process of delivering energy to fleets. It automates and makes safer and cleaner the whole process of keeping those fleets in constant operation. That’s the business proposition.”

Meanwhile, he said, “there’s a big choice to be made.”

“Fifteen years from now, if you are walking down 42nd Street outside of Grand Central and you’re looking there underneath the archway, you can either have filled that street full of 6-foot-tall D.C. chargers with big hoses to plug in. Or it will have all been put underground and made invisible.”

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