Speed Reads

The future has arrived

Volvo is developing electric roads


Electric cars not only already exist, but are becoming quite mainstream. But they're still a bit of a pain: You have to plug the car in for hours at a time to get a full charge.

Imagine if the vehicle could instead be charged by the road as it goes along, the way an electric train is charged by the track.

The next wave of innovation may deliver exactly that. Volvo and the Swedish Transport Administration have announced plans to create a road where vehicles — initially buses — are charged as they drive along through wireless electricity transmission. The road will be 1,000 to 1,500 feet long.

Wirelessly electricity transmission, also known as inductive charging, uses an electromagnetic field — similar to the way electromagnetic fields are now widely used to transmit information across wireless networks — to transmit power. The earliest applications have been in charging smartphones and other household gadgets. But use on a road may be the thing that drives electric vehicles into the mainstream. Obviously, the technical challenge is large, because it takes a lot more power to fuel buses and cars than smartphones. And moving buses and cars adds more complication.

But in principle, this could be huge.