VW autonomous charging bots reimagine EV infrastructure in an increasingly electric landscape

Self-driving bots chauffeuring "battery wagons" could offer autonomous robotic charging capabilities in a wide range of public environments such as parking garages, rest areas, and more.

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Image: Volkswagen

By 2030, Deloitte predicts that EV sales will swell to more than 31.3 million up from 2.5 million in 2020, according to a report released in July 2020. One of the logistical challenges associated with EVs involves the limited infrastructure in place to support electric-powered transportation. 

While there are innumerable gasoline stations prepped throughout cities and along extended thoroughfares, the same cannot be said of EV stations. On Dec. 26, Volkswagen unveiled its autonomous robotic recharging system. This EV recharging prototype could offer a unique twist on EV infrastructure in the years ahead. Simply put, why drive to the charging station when the charging station can autonomously rove to you?

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"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," said Mark Möller, head of development at Volkswagen Group Components, in a press release.

As detailed in the release, Volkswagen's robotic recharging prototype involves everything "from opening the charging socket flap to connecting the plug to decoupling," meaning "the entire charging process occurs without any human interaction." The company explained that the electric refresh is managed autonomously when initiated via V2X or an app.

In a short video, Volkswagen demonstrates a use-case inside of a typical parking garage. Aside from the charging area, the recharging system leverages two types of bots: A self-driving pilot of sorts and "mobile energy storage" units also referred to as "battery wagons." The operator bot features a pair of anthropomorphic eyes and uses an onboard robotic arm to fasten with and ferry the individual charging stations to a particular vehicle in the garage.

Next, the self-driving bot uses its robotic arm to attach the cord on the battery wagons to an EV. Once connected, the operator bot continues back to the charging station before eventually returning to detach the charging cable and transport the mobile power source to the charging bay.

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Image: Volkswagen

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The self-driving bot is equipped with "cameras, laser scanners and ultrasonic sensors" enabling the vehicle to chauffeur battery wagons about and also "move around freely in the parking area, to recognise possible obstacles and to react to these" objects. The self-driving bots are capable of moving "several" battery wagons concurrently, per Volkswagen. Each mobile energy storage unit has "an energy content of approximately 25 kWh each" and the systems use "DC quick charging with up to 50 kW."

As part of the company's "future vision of a holistic charging system," the company details how this robotic system, DC wall units, and flexible charging station could provide EV recharging capabilities in other public spaces such as rest areas, events venues, and more. Möller also noted other ancillary benefits of this framework.

"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."

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