Who says expanding the electric vehicle charging infrastructure has to be boring? It can give automakers a chance to show off their innovations, not to mention their sense of style.
A prototype mobile charging robot from Volkswagen Group Components looks to address the needs of the electric vehicle of the future long after it comes off the assembly line. The automaker's robot, previewed in December, provides fully autonomous charging of EVs in restricted parking areas, such as garages.
Complete with eyes and futuristic sound effects, the rectangular bot is said to be akin to Star Wars' R2-D2 or Pixar's WALL-E. Its cute, digital face even lights up upon navigating to a vehicle.
The robot can be started using an app or vehicle-to-everything — known as V2X — communication. It steers a mobile energy unit to the vehicle needing a charge, opens the charging socket to connect to the plug and disconnects when the vehicle is full.
The robot then collects its mobile energy storage unit and takes it back to the central charging station, according to Volkswagen. It repeats this process with several charging units to charge multiple vehicles at the same time.
"A ubiquitous charging infrastructure is, and remains, a key factor in the success of electric mobility," Thomas Schmall, CEO of Volkswagen Group Components, said in a release. "Setting up an efficient charging infrastructure for the future is a central task that challenges the entire sector."
The mobile charging robot is part of the business unit's work on a complete DC charging family. Volkswagen's flexible, quick-charging station is expected to launch early this year.
Others also have been working on using robotics for autonomous charging. Boston startup Power Hydrant's vision is that, once an EV is detected in a designated charging area, a robotic arm would move the plug into position to charge the vehicle.
Whatever the method, autonomous charging capabilities could allow parking garages and structures to tout their EV-friendliness, without incurring the cost of building and operating permanent charging stations.
"Our developments do not just focus on customers' needs and the technical prerequisites of electric vehicles," Schmall said. "They also consider the economic possibilities they offer potential partners."