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VW wants to test robotic EV chargers for self-driving cars

The future is electric and autonomous

Image: VW

The cars of the future will be electric and robotic, so why not use robots to charge their batteries, too? Volkswagen announced a pilot project on Thursday to test that very possibility.

The German auto giant is partnering with Bay Area startup Stable Auto under the umbrella of its EV charging subsidiary, Electrify America. The idea is to build facilities where self-driving electric vehicles can recharge without human intervention. A robotic arm attached to a 150kW DC fast charger would perform the task of plugging into the car’s charge port. A test site in San Francisco will be constructed with the aim to open in early 2020.

Under the deal, Electrify America will provide two 150kW DC fast chargers to Stable Auto’s facility. Stable would then build out the demo station, after which Electrify America would come in and evaluate whether the system has commercial potential.

According to Electrify America:

The dedicated fleet-charging facility will allow self-driving EV fleets to charge with no operators present: vehicles can park themselves anywhere inside a standard parking space, and Stable’s robot will automate the connection between the vehicle and the charger.

If the future is electric autonomous taxis prowling the streets of major cities, then VW believes the concept should be extended to the charging infrastructure as well. Cruise, the autonomous division of General Motors, was aiming to deploy a fleet of electric self-driving taxis in San Francisco by the end of 2019, although it recently pushed back its launch to an unspecified date.

Electrify America is aiming to have a network of nearly 3,000 chargers online across the US by the middle of the year, but only 450 charging stations are currently in operation, according to the group’s website. The company experienced a brief outage earlier this year after concerns emerged about the liquid-cooled cables that were provided by a Swiss supplier.