Volkswagen’s friendly looking robot would autonomously charge electric cars

Volkswagen has created an autonomous charging station on wheels that could make electric car-only parking spots a thing of the past. Deploying smiling, friendly-looking robots in parking structures promises to turn every spot into a charging point.

V2X technology makes bringing the charging infrastructure directly to the car possible. Once they’ve parked, motorists summon the charging robot via a smartphone application, or through the car’s touchscreen. The robot wakes up knowing precisely where the car in need of a charge is located, and how much electricity is required to fill its battery pack. It then tows a mobile charger called a battery wagon to the parking spot, wirelessly asks the car to open its charging flap, plugs it in, and goes back to its dock. It tows the battery wagon back to its home base at the end of the charging process.

This whole sequence happens without human intervention. The robot is equipped with an armada of cameras, laser scanners, and ultrasonic sensors that allow it to find the car autonomously and, significantly, drive around a parking garage without hitting other vehicles, whether they’re parked or moving. The battery wagons (which are shaped like little trailers) have a capacity of 25 kilowatt-hours, and they’re capable of DC fast-charging at up to 50 kilowatts.

Teaching robots to charge electric cars on their own solves several problems. Motorists will no longer need to drive around a parking structure looking for a charger, and they won’t be forced to limp home on a nearly empty battery if the few available plugs are already being used. It’s a solution that makes financial sense, too, because Volkswagen predicts housing robots and battery wagons in a corner of a parking garage will be cheaper than building charging stations in an existing structure.

Volkswagen stressed that this innovative technology remains at the embryonic stage of development. “It’s a visionary prototype which can be made into reality quite quickly if the general conditions are right,” explained Mark Möller, the head of development for Volkswagen Group Components, in a statement. The company added it’s too early to tell precisely when the charging robots and the battery wagons will be tested in real-world conditions. The German firm will launch a sizable electric car offensive in 2020, when it begins delivering the ID.3 hatchback to European buyers and unveils the America-bound ID.4 crossover, so battery wagons towed by happy robots could be right around the corner.

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