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CES: Chevy Volt to have wireless charging mats

GM to incorporate Powermat wireless charging tech into car interiors for the 2011 Chevrolet Volt, and then in other brands beginning in mid-2012.

Powermat in Chevy Volt
The wireless charging Powermat is due in the 2011 Chevrolet Volt, and in other GM brand cars by mid-2012. GM

Universal chargers for portable electronics will someday seem quaint when wireless charging technology becomes ubiquitous, and that may happen soonest in your car.

General Motors has partnered with Powermat to incorporate its wireless charging mats into car interiors, both companies announced from the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas today.

Starting with the Chevy Volt, drivers and passengers will be able to lay things like phones and MP3 players on the center console and have them wirelessly charge while they're sitting there.

GM said consumers will be able to get the tech for the 2011 Chevy Volt, and that it will be available for other Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, and Cadillac brand cars by mid-2012.

As part of the development deal, the automaker's venture capital subsidiary, GM Ventures, has invested $5 million in Powermat--no small matter in a very competitive environment. Several companies including Fujitsu, Palm, Pure Energy Solutions, ElectroHub, Green Plug and WiiPower have been introducing wireless charging technology using tiny portable mats for a single device, desktop mats for multiple devices, and wireless rechargeable batteries. All of them have had varied ways of dealing with the issue of compatibility.

Wireless charging mats generally work by first using a receiver somewhere on a portable device that magnetically connects it to a charge point on a mat that is plugged in to an electricity source. Once fully charged that receiver sends a signal to the mat, which then halts further electricity from passing through to the device. In addition to the convenience of no wires, charging mats offer an energy-efficient alternative to chargers, which often continue to suck down electricity even after a device is fully charged. Many companies use receivers that snap on to the device to be charged, while others offer special rechargeable batteries that act as receivers to us in existing devices.

Powermat tackles the universality issue by offering a receiver case or a flat back panel receiver that snaps on to the device, depending on the type of device to be charged. Currently, the company makes snap-on receivers for products made by Apple, Research In Motion, HTC, Motorola, and Nintendo.

Powermat already sells a desktop charging mat and a folding portable charging mat. It's also developing something it calls the Powermat Netbook which is capable of charging a Netbook, as well as multiple portable devices at once.