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This robot arm could soon recharge your electric car, no driver effort required

TU Graz entwickelt robotergesteuertes Schnellladesystem für E-Fahrzeuge

Part of convincing traditional car owners to join the electric vehicle revolution is persuading them that EVs, to paraphrase late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, “just work.” One way to do this is to offer a vastly simplified, more seamless refueling experience.

We’ve previously covered innovative ideas, such as roads capable of wirelessly charging cars as they are driven on. Now, engineers from Austria’s Graz University of Technology — working in conjunction with BMW, the Austrian Society of Automotive Engineers, and select other groups — have come up with an efficient alternative that’s sure to impress even the most seasoned of gas guzzlers. It involves a smart robotic charger that can automatically plug into any electric vehicle, no driver effort required.

“The charging system is based on a collaborative robot, [which] can operate next to any living person without danger, and is controlled by an arrangement of cameras and specific software,” Bernhard Walzel, the researcher overseeing the project, told Digital Trends. “It automatically detects an electric plug at the car and connects it to the charging station. As long as the plug is within the range of the robot, it is not necessary to place the vehicle in an exactly defined parking position.”

Image used with permission by copyright holder

In order to carry out a safe plug-in process, the robot uses a variety of sensors, along with A.I. technologies such as object detection and recognition. When you park your car, the robot is able to identify its make and model, locate the charging port, and establish what kind of charging port it is. It then connects the liquid-cooled charging plug to give your battery some much-needed juice. Oh, and it can do this regardless of lighting.

“The prototype provides a future link between autonomous parking of electric vehicles and the charging infrastructure,” Walzel said. “Inductive charging is an alternative solution, but the contactless technologies are not expected to provide the required high charging power for quick charging. Conductive systems using charging cables are able to be operated with high charging power. In addition, when using standardized cables and plugs, no attachments such as charging plates or special plugs are needed at the vehicle. One of our focuses was to avoid any [need to adapt the] vehicle itself, due to issues and challenges like weight, costs or installation space.”

Other researchers on the project included Mario Hirz and Helmut Brunner. Having demonstrated their proof of concept with a prototype, the researchers are now working to find ways to make the system more cost effective. Hopefully, it won’t be long before such technology finds its way onto our streets, freeways and, well, wherever gas stations are currently found.

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Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
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