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VW Shows off EV Charging Robots, but Stays Mum on Costs – Autoweek


  • VW reveals EV charging robot prototypes in video.
  • The robots are designed to operate in parking lots and garages.
  • Several other companies are working on EV charging robots.

    Volkswagen’s sketches of EV charging droids first revealed a few months ago looked like a fanciful preview of a much distant future, in which even the task of plugging in your EV is done by smart (but not sentient) machines. It was a bit of a Jetsons-style sketch of a future in which even plugging something in will considered to be a chore—just like a few years ago when inductive charging pads for EVs were thought to be the future. But inductive charging, as elegant as it seemed in practice, hasn’t really been able to offer DC fast-charging speeds, which have since become an industry standard much like broadband Wi-Fi over a decade ago. And it certainly hasn’t become commonplace.

    But VW’s charging droids didn’t stay on the drawing board for long, and VW wasn’t even the only company working on such things.

    What the automaker calls “battery wagons” have now been shown in prototype form in the video below, with one robot being responsible for holding the juice on board while another handles the cords. What’s more, the robots have been designed to operate autonomously once summoned to a car in a parking garage via an app.

    “To charge several vehicles at the same time, the mobile robot moves a trailer, essentially a mobile energy storage unit, to the vehicle, connects it up and then uses this energy storage unit to charge the battery of the electric vehicle,” the automaker says. “The energy storage unit stays with the vehicle during the charging process. In the meantime, the robot charges other electric vehicles. Once the charging service has ended, the robot independently collects the mobile energy storage unit and takes it back to the central charging station.”

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    These robots aren’t the only concept that VW is exploring when it comes to charging stations, of course, because this setup does not look inexpensive, assuming it could be mass produced. Two robots, one of which is a giant battery, look like they could cost as much as an EV itself.

    The robots have laser and radar sensors on board to navigate parking lots and complicated arms to manipulate objects and cords, so this isn’t quite the budget solution for a grocery store parking lot when it comes to charging stations. VW is also working on its own wallbox charger, which is currently undergoing testing at its factory sites in Germany—a far more budget-friendly concept that VW will very much need as its ID models go mainstream.

    Still, does this robot charging system look like the future of EV charging, at least in mall parking structures, grocery store parking lots, and other public places?

    For a glimpse into an EV future, perhaps it’s better to look at China, which has eight times as many charging stations as the U.S., with Beijing being just a few thousand stations shy of the total count of the U.S. What we see there are just parking lots with chargers positioned at the nose of every car spot, with hundreds of individual chargers located in a single lot. That’s a rare sight in the U.S. this day unless we’re talking about some corporate headquarters in Silicon Valley, and it’s by many estimates the least expensive way to transform parking lots into EV charging lots.

    “Setting up an efficient charging infrastructure for the future is a central task that challenges the entire sector,” said Volkswagen Group Components CEO Thomas Schmall. “We are developing solutions to help avoid costly standalone measures. The mobile charging robot and our flexible quick-charging station are just two of these solutions.”

    Sign up for comments and let us know whether you think such robots will be common in the future, or whether inductive charging will be more common.

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