Ford has developed a prototype robot charging station that drivers operate via their smartphone from inside their electric vehicle (EV) in a bid to make using EVs more attractive to disabled drivers, people with reduced mobility and older people. The technology could enable disabled drivers to stay in the car while charging, or they could leave the car while the robot does all the work. A survey by the UK-based Research Institute for Disabled Consumers earlier this year found 61% of disabled people would consider buying an EV only if charging was made more accessible, while only 25% of non-EV drivers would currently agree to switching.
Ford is testing the robot charging station as part of a research project to develop hands-free charging solutions for EVs and fully automatic charging for autonomous vehicles.
Following initial lab testing, Ford researchers are now putting the robot charging station to the test in real-life situations. Once activated, the station cover slides open and the charging arm extends towards the inlet with the help of a tiny camera. For the trial, drivers were able to monitor the charge status via the FordPass app. After charging, the arm retracts back into place.
In future, the robot charging station, custom-made by Dortmund University, in Germany, could be installed at disabled parking spaces, in car parks or at private homes. Further applications could include fast and efficient charging of company fleets. The technology could also support more powerful charging to charge vehicles in a much shorter time.
Looking ahead, the process could become fully automated, with minimal or no driver involvement. The driver would simply send the vehicle to the charging station, with the infrastructure ensuring it reaches and returns from its destination autonomously.
Birger Fricke, research engineer, Research and Innovation Center, Ford of Europe, stated: “Ford is committed to ensuring freedom of movement and right now refuelling or charging your vehicle can be a major problem for some drivers. The robot charging station could be an added convenience for some people but – absolutely essential for others.”