For most of us, filling a car with fuel, or charging an electric vehicle is a simple task. But for disabled drivers, people with reduced mobility and older people it can be a significant challenge.
Ford has developed a prototype robot charging station that drivers operate via their smartphone from inside their electric vehicle. The car manufacturer believes 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.
Ford is testing the robot charging station as part of a research project to develop hands-free charging solutions for electric vehicles 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.
Angela Aben, employee communications, Ford of Europe, uses a power-assisted wheelchair to gain more mobility and independence. “I stopped filling up my car myself years ago, because it became very strenuous,” she said. “My husband does it for me. The introduction of a robot charging station would offer me a much greater level of independence.”
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.
A follow-up project with the charging network provider IONITY will look to further improve the robot charging station.
Ford is also researching into robot charging solutions in combination with automated valet parking, as demonstrated at IAA in Munich, Germany, last year.
Birger Fricke, research engineer at the Ford of Europe Research and Innovation Centre said: “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.”
Disabled drivers have already identified ease of charging as a key purchase consideration for electric vehicles. A recent survey in the UK showed that 61% of disabled drivers would consider buying an electric vehicle only if charging was made more accessible.
Ford estimates that on average the weekly installation rate of charging stations needs to speed up by a factor of 10 (EU27 and UK) to grow customers’ confidence in the availability of a dense and reliable charging network meeting their mobility needs.
Ford recently joined 27 companies in a petition to ensure all new cars and vans in Europe are zero emission from 2035 and called for targets to grow electric vehicle charging infrastructure in Europe to keep pace with electric vehicle growth rates.
Ford is developing its Blue Oval Charging Network, which now provides customers with access to a network of over 300,000 chargers across Europe. To help drivers find charging stations and pay for charging, Ford Charge Assist can be accessed using the touchscreen of Ford’s SYNC 4 connectivity and entertainment system.
For commercial vehicle customers, Ford Pro Charging offers bespoke charging solutions incorporating charging equipment, ongoing maintenance and management software that help reduce time-consuming paperwork and charge schedule planning.
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