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Star Wars fans will be reminded of the diminutive R2D2 from the cult films when they see Volkswagen‘s futuristic charging robot. The German automobile manufacturer says it wants to expand charging infrastructure with this visionary concept. For example, the robot can recharge the batteries of vehicles in underground garages and parking lots. “A nationwide charging infrastructure is and remains a key factor for the success of electromobility,” explains Thomas Schmall, CEO of Volkswagen Group Components. “Our charging robot is just one of several initiatives, but undoubtedly one of the most visionary.”

Fully autonomous charging

Much like its sci fi counterpart, the robot will be able to act fully autonomously after being activated via an app or car-to-x communication. It can independently control and communicate with the vehicle that is being charged. From opening the charging socket lid to connecting the plug and disconnecting it. No human intervention is required during the entire charging process.

In order for the robot to be able to charge several vehicles at the same time, it has a mobile energy storage unit with it in the form of a trailer. It drives this to the vehicle, connects it and then uses this energy storage unit to charge the battery of the electric vehicle. While the trailer remains attached to the vehicle, the robot charges other vehicles with additional energy storage units. Once the charging cycle is completed, the robot picks up the trailers again and returns them autonomously to the central charging station.

“Establishing an efficient charging infrastructure for the future is a key task that poses challenges for the entire industry,” says Thomas Schmall. “We are developing solutions that help avoid costly stand-alone measures. The mobile charging robot and our flexible fast-charging station are just two of these solutions.” At the moment, Volkswagen is working on a comprehensive DC charging range. While the flexible fast-charging station is already scheduled for market launch at the beginning of 2021, the charging robot still needs to be developed further. According to VW, one of the preconditions for market readiness is car-to-x communication that enables autonomous charging. At the moment, this robot-car communication is still a bit of a sticking point.

Every parking space will become a charging station

The goal of the development is to integrate the charging robot into an overarching concept that focuses on the long-term success of electromobility and consequently the electrification of road transport. “The development of a charging infrastructure is a basic prerequisite for this. However, it must be demand-driven and efficient,” Schmall continued. “Our developments are not only geared towards the needs of customers and the technical requirements of electric vehicles. They also take into account the economic opportunities that they offer potential partners.” With the mobile robot, operators of parking lots and underground garages can turn every parking space into a charging station for electric cars all at once. Without having to build an extra charging station, which also helps save costs in the process.