Prototype robot charging station takes the strain out of EV top-ups

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Ford has developed a prototype robot EV charging station that disabled drivers, people with reduced mobility and older people can operate using a smartphone inside their vehicle.

Robot charging station could make charging far more accessible for disabled drivers
Robot charging station could make charging far more accessible for disabled drivers - Ford

According to Ford, disabled drivers have identified ease of charging as a key purchase consideration for electric vehicles. The company is testing the robot charging station as part of a research project to develop hands-free charging solutions for EVs and fully automatic charging for autonomous vehicles.

“Ford is committed to ensuring freedom of movement and right now refuelling or charging your vehicle can be a major problem for some drivers,” said Birger Fricke, research engineer, Research and Innovation Centre, Ford of Europe. “The robot charging station could be an added convenience for some people but absolutely essential for others.”

Following initial lab testing, Ford researchers are now testing the robot charging station in real-life situations. Once activated, the station cover slides open and the charging arm extends towards the inlet with the help of a camera. For the trial, drivers were able to monitor the charge status via the FordPass app. After charging, the arm retracts back into place.

The robot charging station was made by Dortmund University, Germany, and could be installed at disabled parking spaces, in car parks or at private homes. Looking ahead, the process could become fully automated, with minimal or no driver involvement; the driver would send the vehicle to the charging station, with the infrastructure ensuring it reaches and returns from its destination autonomously.

Angela Aben, Employee Communications, Ford of Europe, who uses a power-assisted wheelchair, said: “I stopped filling up my car myself years ago, because it became very strenuous. My husband does it for me. The introduction of a robot charging station would offer me a much greater level of independence.”

A follow-up project with the charging network provider IONITY will look to further improve the robot charging station.

Ford is also researching robot charging solutions in combination with Automated Valet Parking, which was demonstrated at IAA in Munich, Germany, last year.