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Inside Formula E's awesome, wireless charging safety car

Andy Vandervell

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Formula E safety car

While Formula 1 has the history and the prestige, upstart Formula E has the fresh new look and perspective, and much less tedious politics. It also has a rather cool new safety car.

An updated version of the BMW i8 safety car from last year, the 2015 version has a tweaked suspension and numerous other enhancements over the road going edition. But the most interesting one is wireless charging.

Yes, that's right, this hybrid sports car charges without wires. It does so thanks to Qualcomm Halo, a technology that could one day find its way into an electric car you own in future.

The new version of the Formula E safety car is fitted with a new, 7.2kW version of Qualcomm Halo that charges the i8's battery in less than an hour, as opposed to two hours last year.

Related: UK to trial "electric highways" to recharge electric cars

Formula E safety car 15Above all else, the BMW i8 is a damn fine looking car. It uses a combination of a 1.5-litre turbocharged engine and a 96kW electric motor to produce 357hp of power.

Formula E safety car 3Oh, and it has awesome doors.

Formula E safety car 13The safety car version features a full roll cage and racing seats, along with the usual features that allow the driver and co-driver to communicate with race control.

Formula E safety car 7Among these features is an iPad and a smartphone, the latter of which is used to interface with the Qualcomm Halo wireless charging system.

Formula E safety car 9There's also a rear view camera, so the driver can see clearly what's going on behind them.

Formula E safety car 23This is the pad the driver has to drive over to start charging the car.

Formula E safety car 29It's connected to a control unit mounted on wheels, so the whole setup can be moved around to where it needs to be.

Formula E safety car 35The smartphone has an app for using Qualcomm Halo.

Formula E safety car 37The animated graphic shows the driver how close he is to being correctly aligned with the pad, though you don't have to be perfectly aligned for it to work. The latest version has a reasonable working area, so it isn't hard to get right.

Formula E safety car 41Once aligned, the app shows it's charging and how much power is going into the car.

You still have to refer to the car's dash to see how much the battery has charged, but consumer versions would build all this into the car's systems.

Formula E safety car 43The reason this system is particularly valuable to Formula E is that the safety car needs to be ready to go at any time. Plugging and unplugging the car would cause delays, but wireless charging means it can drive away with no faffing about.

Of course, Qualcomm's convinced that wireless charging is the future for electric cars, and it already has working versions on road going cars. It's working with a number of manufacturers, including BMW and Mercedes, with whom Qualcomm announced a partnership earlier this year.

We'll be covering Qualcomm's plans in more detail soon, but sadly you won't be able to get your hands on this particular special edition i8.

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