For most of us, filling up the car or charging an electric vehicle is pretty simple. But this could be a major challenge for disabled drivers, people with reduced mobility and the elderly. For this, Ford has developed a prototype robotic charging station that drivers can operate directly from the cockpit of the electric vehicle via their smartphone. The technology could allow disabled drivers to stay in the car while charging or leave the vehicle while the robot does all the work.
Drivers with disabilities have already identified ease of charging as one of the main reasons for purchasing electric vehicles. Ford is testing the robotic charging station as part of a research project to develop hands-free charging solutions for electric vehicles and fully automatic charging for self-driving vehicles.
After the first laboratory tests, Ford researchers started the experimentation phase of the robotic charging station in real contexts. Once activated, the station goes into operation and, at that point, with the help of a small camera, the charging arm extends towards the entrance to the vehicle socket. During testing, drivers could monitor the state of charge via the FordPass app. 3 After charging, the arm retracts to its original position.
The robotic charging station, created ad hoc by the University of Dortmund in Germany, could in the future be installed in parking spaces for the disabled, in parking lots or private homes. Other applications could include fast charging for company fleet vehicles. The technology could also support more powerful charging for faster charging.
Looking ahead, the process could become fully automated, with little or no involvement of the driver, who, at that point, would only have to send the vehicle to the charging station, with the infrastructure capable of ensuring that it is able to reach and return from its destination, in completely autonomous mode.
This research project is part of Ford’s concrete commitment to electrification. The robotic charging station can be further improved at a later stage, involving the charging network provider IONITY.
Ford is also studying robotic charging solutions in combination with Automated Valet Parking, as demonstrated last year at the IAA in Munich, Germany.
Ford’s rapidly expanding Blue Oval Charging Network gives customers access to a charging infrastructure of more than 300,000 stations across Europe. Ford Charge Assist, accessible via the touchscreen of Ford’s SYNC 4 system, 4 makes it easy for drivers to find stations and pay for charging.
For commercial vehicle customers, Ford Pro Charging offers bespoke solutions that include charging equipment, ongoing maintenance and management software that reduce paperwork and scheduling charging schedules.
Ford recently joined 27 companies in a petition to ensure that all new models, cars and vans sold in Europe are zero emissions from 2035 and called for targets to be set for increasing charging infrastructure in Europe to keep up with the growth rates of electric vehicle sales.
The company believes that a unified approach involving governments, European Union institutions, the entire automotive industry, energy suppliers, local authorities and consumers is needed to accelerate the development of comprehensive charging infrastructure that is easily accessible and efficient at home, in the workplace and public places.
According to Birger Fricke, research engineer at Ford of Europe’s Center for Research and Innovation, the robotic charging station might be convenient for some people and a need for others. Ford is dedicated to promoting the right to travel freely, yet at the moment, he says some motorists may have significant difficulties refuelling or charging their vehicles.
Years ago, a European employee of Ford, Angela Aben, who uses a power-assisted wheelchair to increase her mobility and independence, quit filling up her automobile because it was too exhausting. Her husband takes care of it. Angela says she would be more independent if a robotic charging station was introduced.
Seven new electric vehicles by 2024 in Europe
In the wake of the successful launch of the Mustang Mach-E and Mach-E GT in Europe, and following the launch – in the next quarter – of the E-Transit, Ford unveiled that there are seven more electric to join the Ford family – three cars and four commercial vehicles.
Starting in 2023, Ford will begin production of a new electric car, a medium crossover built in Cologne, Germany, and a second electric car that will join the Cologne plant in 2024. In addition, its best-selling car in Europe, the Ford Puma, will be available in a 100% electric version from 2024 and produced in Craiova in Romania.