As part of a research effort looking into automated and hands-free charging solutions for electric vehicle drivers and autonomous EVs, Ford has started testing a prototype robot charging station aimed at making the top-up process easier for folks with limited mobility.
Robots capable of plugging a cable into an electric vehicle's charging port and removing it again once the battery is full have been in development for some time, and would allow drivers the luxury of remaining in the car during inclement or cold weather and watch a movie on the infotainment screen or catch up with friends on social media while the car is being juiced up.
Such systems would also make an often challenging process for those with reduced mobility or older drivers a whole lot easier, with a recent UK survey identifying improved accessibility as an important consideration for disabled drivers looking to buy into electric mobility solutions.
Ford has been working on just such a system, and has now started real-world trials of a robot charging station prototype built by engineers at Germany's Dortmund University following successful tests in the lab.
The idea is that the driver pulls up to a charging station, initiates the charging procedure using a companion mobile app and the robot does the rest. A cover slides open, the robotic charging arm reaches out and locates the vehicle's charging port with the help of a camera, plugs in and activates energy transfer.
The whole process can be monitored through the app, and the driver can either remain inside the vehicle or exit the car and head off to nearby facilities to refresh or get something to eat. Once the process is complete, the robot arm unplugs and moves back inside its little cubby hole in the charging station – as you can see in the video below.
Next up, Ford is partnering with charging network provider Ionity to improve on the current design, while also looking into fast-charging variants and incorporating such solutions into automated valet parking setups so that vehicles could be sent to a robot charging point and returned to the driver fully topped up. Robotic chargers could also lend a helping hand to company fleet operators.