Ford trials robot charging station to give disabled people a helping hand
To address the challenges disabled drivers or those with reduced mobility face when charging an electric vehicle, Ford has developed a prototype robot charging station that drivers operate via their smartphone from inside their electric vehicle.
The accessible technology could enable disabled drivers to stay in the car while charging, or they could leave the car while the robot does all the work.
Disabled drivers have already identified ease of charging as a key purchase consideration for electric vehicles. Ford is testing the robot charging station as part of a research project to develop hands-free charging solutions for electric vehicles and fully automatic charging for autonomous vehicles.
Following initial lab testing, Ford researchers are now putting the robot charging station to the test in real-life situations. Once activated, the station cover slides open, and the charging arm extends towards the inlet with the help of a tiny camera. For the trial, drivers were able to monitor the charge status via the FordPass app. After charging, the arm retracts back into place.
Birger Fricke, a research engineer at the Research and Innovation Center at Ford of Europe, said: “Ford is committed to ensuring freedom of movement and right now refuelling or charging your vehicle can be a major problem for some drivers. The robot charging station could be an added convenience for some people but – absolutely essential for others.”
In future, the robot charging station, custom-made by Dortmund University, in Germany, could be installed at disabled parking spaces, in car parks, or at private homes.
Further applications could include fast and efficient charging of company fleets. The technology could also support more powerful charging to charge vehicles in a much shorter time.
Angela Aben, Employee Communications at Ford of Europe, who uses a power-assisted wheelchair to gain more mobility and independence, commented: “I stopped filling up my car myself years ago, because it became very strenuous. My husband does it for me. The introduction of a robot charging station would offer me a much greater level of independence.”
Looking ahead, the process could become fully automated, with minimal or no driver involvement. The driver would simply send the vehicle to the charging station, with the infrastructure ensuring it reaches and returns from its destination autonomously.
Ford has been integrating robots in other ways to give disabled people greater independence. Robbie the Cobot, a collaborative robot that carries out a range of tasks, is helping a Ford production line employee continue his career more easily. Learn more about the interesting cobot and how it is helping Dietmar in this case study.