One of the biggest obstacles to widespread adoption of electric vehicles is charging infrastructure. It takes time and money to set up a few special places or to set up charging points in every parking space, but Volkswagen is working on a solution that can charge an electric car from any regular parking space: robots. And now it has moved past the concept stage to a real prototype.
Simply referred to as the ‘mobile charging robot’, which we’ll refer to as MCR for short, the stocky, R2-D2-esque droid lives in a dedicated charging station that can be installed in any corner of a typical city parking garage. It even has a friendly robotic face with LCD eyes that “open” when called and a small extendable arm. In addition, there are several trailers with battery stacks that charge in the bay when not in use.
When an EV driver enters the parking lot, they can choose a parking space and, via a smartphone app, tell the robot that they want a charge. The MCR wakes up, grabs an available trailer with its arm and takes the trailer to the car. The trailers don’t have an autonomous function, but the droid is smart enough to avoid obstacles and traffic in the garage. Once at the car, the arm helps insert the connector into the charging port and the Wall-E-like ‘bot is free to operate other cars and trailers. No human intervention is required.
It’s a pretty clever solution, and one that doesn’t require a massive overhaul of current parking structures. In addition, VW hints that this is just the beginning. “We develop solutions to avoid costly independent measures. The mobile charging robot and our flexible fast charging station are just two of these solutions,” said Thomas Schall, CEO of Volkswagen Group Components.
Volkswagen says the system is already being tested in Germany and has successfully reached the prototype stage. The company says it will launch in early 2021.