BY THOMAS HULL
Volkswagen Group Components have been working on the concept for a long time, but now hope that the charging robot will be usable in spaces like underground car parks within a few years.
In a 44-second trailer, which feels a little more like a Pixar teaser than a technology reveal, incongruously dramatic music plays over shots of gleaming metal, panning out to reveal a cute white cuboid with friendly light-up cartoon eyes. We see it glide across the floor, insert its arm into a charging slot, and… not much else, with the video ending on a promise of “more to come”.
According to VW’s press release, the R2D2-esque robot can be started with an app or Car-to-X communication. It does the rest totally autonomously, steering to the vehicle and effectively dragging a ‘battery wagon’ with it, communicating with the car to open the charging socket and connect the plug for 50kW DC charging. It’ll then be able to go and sort out other cars before returning when your vehicle is fully charged, decoupling the charger and trundling off to its next job.
The big deal here is the potential this tech has to make any space in a car park into a BEV charging spot… in theory. Having a working prototype is one thing, and trusting a robot to reliably steer around the chaos of how some people park their cars is quite another. I’ve got visions of Roombas getting stuck on the stairs and beeping for help like lost kittens – and those aren’t subjected to the randomness and vandalism of the general public.
Furthermore, although VW haven’t made any statements about how widespread they expect to make these bots, it doesn’t seem likely they’ll become something you can rely on finding in every big Sainsbury’s underground car park. Still, in places where the robots are implemented, it would mean you could turn up to a busy car park, nab the first empty space you see, and leave your EV to sort itself out, which would be a welcome change.
VW’s press release keenly emphasises that the charging robot is one of several DC charging solutions they’re developing simultaneously – perhaps anticipating comments that this technology looks set to arrive just as wireless charging could make it redundant.