Hughes Inductive Charging

Charging an electric vehicle through magnetic induction is being explored today as a new way to energize EV batteries, But it has its beginnings more than 28 years ago at GM’s Hughes Aircraft, long before today’s charging systems were adopted.

We tend to take the nuances of electric vehicle charging for granted, but it’s been a long road to get where we are today. Establishing standards is a lengthy and involved process that’s not without controversy. Today, we have established connectors and protocols for standardized charging of all electric vehicles on the market, with the exception of Tesla, which has its own exclusive charging stations and connectors. Even so, change is still afoot as companies like BMW strive to commercialize contactless inductive charging that doesn’t require any connector at all for energizing an electric vehicle’s batteries. Back in 1992 during the early years of the modern EV’s march to market, GM and Hughes Aircraft were championing paddle inductive charging that would eventually make its way to the GM EV1 and early EVs from a number of other automakers. In the interest of taking our readers back to the beginnings of inductive charging, we present this article from the Green Car Journal archives, as it was originally published in June 1992.

Excerpted from June 1992 Issue: Visionaries who contemplated the day when electrical plugs would power modem automobiles weren’t so visionary after all. It’s likely that magnetic induction paddles, not plugs, will do the job. Hughes Aircraft, a unit of General Motors, has just introduced such a prototype charging system and has proposed it as an industry standard.

This charging system is unique in many ways. Perhaps its most important distinction is that the conventional method of providing electrical power through metal-to-metal contact is eliminated. There are no plug prongs to bend, and no fumbling to align multiple male to female contacts. The potential for electrical shock is gone. Instead, electricity is transferred from power source to vehicle through magnetic induction, the same technology used by the electrical transformers found on utility power poles. Hughes says it’s safe enough to allow recharging in the rain.

As a design concept, the electric paddle is as foreign to refueling as compact discs once were to music. But as the popular CD illustrates, things change. The 5-inch round, plastic-covered paddle has many of the same plusses going for it: It’s durable, easy to use, and makes perfect sense. GCJ editors found refueling with the charging paddle a user-friendly experience. Its handle is easy to grip, the paddle slides into the car’s charging port without effort, and it’s simple to disengage by depressing a thumb release and pulling outward from the port.

The line of Hughes EV chargers that will use these paddles include a wall-mounted 220-volt residential unit, a 220-volt curbside column for use in cities and parking structures, and a portable110-volt adapter unit that will allow charging at any electrical outlet. A kiosk style energy station will also be available for fleet service centers. Pacific Gas & Electric (San Francisco, Calif.) is currently testing one of these charging units. Hughes Power Control Systems (Torrance, Calif.) expects to begin general delivery of charging units to fleets and demonstration programs next year.

GM has adopted the paddle port design into the electric vehicle they’re developing for a mid ’90s introduction. Chrysler, Ford, and a number of Japanese automakers are evaluating the design for possible use with their coming EV models as well.