Robot charger gives disabled drivers a helping hand

For most of us, filling a car with fuel, or charging an electric vehicle is a simple task. But for disabled drivers, people with reduced mobility and older people it can be a significant challenge.

Now, we have developed a prototype robot charging station that drivers operate via their smartphone from inside their electric vehicle. 1

Disabled drivers have already identified ease of charging as a key purchase consideration for electric vehicles. 2 The technology we’re testing could enable disabled drivers to stay in the car while charging, or they could leave the car while the robot does all the work.

It’s all part of a research project to develop hands-free charging solutions for electric vehicles and fully automatic charging for autonomous vehicles.

Once activated via smartphone, the station cover slides open and the charging arm extends towards the inlet with the help of a tiny camera. After charging, the arm retracts back into place. 

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, Ford of Europe, uses a power-assisted wheelchair to gain more mobility and independence.

“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.”

Angela Aben, Employee Communications,
Ford of Europe

Looking further 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.

This research project complements our commitment to electrification. A follow-up project with the charging network provider IONITY will look to further improve the robot charging station.

Our fast-growing Blue Oval Charging Network already provides our customers with access to a network of over 300,000 chargers across Europe.

“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."

Birger Fricke, research engineer,
Research and Innovation Center, Ford of Europe.

1 This vehicle feature is being developed for trial purposes only and is currently not available for purchase.

2 A recent survey in the UK showed that 61 per cent of disabled drivers would consider buying an electric vehicle only if charging was made more accessible.

+ Bucher, Jens ; Knipschild, Jan ; Künne, Bernd: Development and evaluation of an automatic connection device for electric cars with four DOFs and a control scheme based on infrared markers.

In: International Journal of Mechatronics and Automation 8 (2021), Nr. 4, S. 175-186. - DOI 10.1504/IJMA.2021.10043805 - ISSN 2045-1059