Is this the future of EV charging?

Jon Lawson

Volkswagen has provided a glimpse into the future in which the search for charging stations for electric cars comes to an end. Volkswagen Group Components’ mobile charging robot takes over this task – and drives to the electric car completely autonomously.

After it is started via app or V2X communication, the mobile robot drives itself to the vehicle that needs charging and communicates with it. From opening the charging socket flap to connecting the plug to decoupling – the entire charging process occurs without any human interaction. The highlight? The mobile robot brings a trailer in the form of a mobile energy storage device to the vehicle and connects them; it then uses this to charge the battery of the electric vehicle. The mobile energy storage device stays with the vehicle during the whole charging process. The robot, in the meantime, charges other electric vehicles. Once the charging service is complete, the robot collects the energy storage device and brings it back to the charging station.

“The mobile charging robot will spark a revolution when it comes to charging in different parking facilities, such as multistorey car parks, parking spaces and underground car parks because we bring the charging infrastructure to the car and not the other way around. With this, we are making almost every car park electric, without any complex individual infrastructural measures,” summarised Mark Möller, Head of Development at Volkswagen Group Components. 

“It’s a visionary prototype, which can be made into reality quite quickly, if the general conditions are right” Möller continued. Volkswagen Group Components is researching different approaches to the assembly of charging infrastructure and has already developed several successful products. The flexible quick charging station and DC wall boxes are already part of a future charging family. Customer-oriented, intelligent and flexible approaches to charging are at the centre of the research. Other innovative products such as the charging robot are currently being developed.

The prototype consists of a compact, self-driving robot as well as flexible and agile energy storage devices, also known as battery wagons. When fully charged, these are equipped with an energy content of around 25 kWh each. A charging robot can move several battery wagons at the same time. When called via app or V2X communication, it brings the energy storage device to the electric vehicle and connects them both autonomously. With its integrated charging electronics, the energy storage device allows for DC quick charging with up to 50 kW on the vehicle.

The robot, which can drive autonomously, is fitted with cameras, laser scanners and ultrasonic sensors. The combination of these systems not only allows the robot to carry out the charging process completely autonomously but also to move around freely in the parking area, to recognise possible obstacles and to react to these. Depending on the size of the parking area or the underground car park, several charging robots can be employed simultaneously so that several vehicles can be attended to.

How every car park can become a flexible charging point

The mobile charging robot can be put to use in various ways. It isn’t just a robot arm that connects a car to a fixed charging station. Instead, drivers have the choice to park in any available space, independent of whether a charging station is free or not. The robot brings the charging station in the form of a mobile energy storage device directly to the vehicle. For operators of different parking facilities this is a quick and easy solution to electrify every parking space. “This approach has an enormous economic potential”, said Möller. “The constructional work as well as the costs for the assembly of the charging infrastructure can be reduced considerably through the use of the robots.”

The compact design of the charging robot is perfectly suited for use in restricted parking areas without charging infrastructures, such as underground car parks. Möller continued: “Even the well-known problem of a charging station being blocked by another vehicle will no longer exist with our concept. You simply choose any parking space as usual. You can leave the rest to our electronic helper.”