Volkswagen and Kuka have confirmed the extension of a strategic partnership that hopes to provide innovative solutions for EV charging and parking.
Volkswagen recently announced that it has signed a Cooperation Contract with Kuka Robotics to further analyse two particular areas of mobility. The Volkswagen Group wants to use the partnership to continue a research project into autonomous vehicles and service robots. Part of this project involves a robotic charging point that can independently connect to an EV once the driver has parked in the designated spot.
e-smartConnect unveiled its charging robot in 2015, as well as an autonomous valet system (V-Charge) that drives and parks a vehicle to the appropriate charging point. The project has been designed to meet the needs of next generation EVs and their users. In particular, Volkswagen has been concerned by the increasing power capacity of batteries so has been working to develop chargers capable of supplying power to these batteries in a timely fashion.
e-smartConnect is aiming to provide charging that is capable of meeting the power needs of a car with at least a 500 km range. To do this, the Group declared that it is working towards 80-150 kW DC charging technology – at least doubling its current charger capability for the e-Golf. Such technology, it admitted, will make cables very thick and unwieldy and has therefore decided to develop automated charging to assist with this.
In a recent press statement, Volkswagen’s Head of Research and Development, Ulrich Eichhorn, confirmed that it was continuing to concentrate on the important practicalities of new technology. “Autonomous vehicles will contribute to making mobility safer, simpler and more convenient. This includes innovative services associated with the automobile.”
Kuka Robotics, which has headquarters in Ausberg, Germany, is responsible for the robotic components. According to a press release from 2015, the project’s ‘LBR iiwa’ robot is lightweight and uses seven drive axles and integrated torque sensors to enable it to navigate precisely and reliably. The LBR iiwa also has a diverse range of uses. The technology is currently being used by Vodafone as part of a digitisation campaign and Siemens is employing for it for delicate electric motor manufacturing work.
Neither are charging robots a new concept. Indeed, in 2015, Tesla released a video of a prototype robotic snake capable of locating and plugging itself into the car. While some found the robot to be painstakingly slow and rather creepy, others were inspired. A Model S owner created his own charging arm, dubbed the Evtron, based on the prototype.
FreeWire has also produced a similar prototype – the Mobi Charger – which is intended to help businesses offer charging for employees without the expense of installing a station.
The e-smartConnect has clearly identified consumers’ desire for autonomy and the need for the process to be technically supported, fast, easy, and convenient. Kuka’s CEO, Til Reuter, explained: “In future, robots will support humans in many routine tasks. And everyday life in future will be inconceivable without autonomous driving. We will work together on innovative concepts in order to shape this future.”
Yet, it seems that robotic charging has not been given that much attention by researchers and developers, despite being an inevitable part of charging infrastructure. Tesla filed a patent earlier this year that suggests it has abandoned the robotic snake and is looking at the possibility of thermal conditioning as a way to cope with greater power output. However, the company may just be looking to hold onto such an idea without any direct plans to commercialise it. To that end, the e-smartConnect project is at a more mature stage and certainly seems to be more likely to enter domestic use.