One of the biggest obstacles to widespread EV adoption is the charging infrastructure. Carving out a few dedicated spaces or setting up charging stations at every parking lot will take time and money, but Volkswagen is working on a solution that allows an EV to be charged from any regular parking space: robots. And now it has moved beyond the concept stage to a real prototype.
Called simply the “mobile charging robot,” which we’ll call MCR for short, the squat, R2-D2-like droid lives in a dedicated charging bay that can be installed in any corner of a typical city parking garage. It even has a friendly robot face with LCD eyes that “open” when it’s called and a little extendable arm. Alongside it are several trailers comprised of battery stacks that charge in the bay when not in use.
When an EV driver pulls into the lot, they can pick any parking space they like and, via a smartphone app, tell the robot they’d like a charge. The MCR wakes up, grabs an available trailer with its arm, and brings the trailer to the car. The trailers don’t have an autonomous function, but the droid is smart enough to avoid obstacles and traffic in the garage. Once at the car, the arm helps plug the connector into the charging port and the Wall-E-like ‘bot is free to attend to other cars and trailers. No human intervention is needed.
It’s a pretty clever solution, and one that won’t require a massive revamp of current parking structures. What’s more, VW hints that this is just the beginning. “We are developing solutions to help avoid costly stand-alone measures. The mobile charging robot and our flexible quick-charging station are just two of these solutions,” says Thomas Schall, CEO of Volkswagen Group Components.
Volkswagen says that the system is already undergoing testing in Germany, and has successfully reached the prototype stage. The company says it will be launched in early 2021.