The market for electric cars continues to grow at a rapid pace. In 2020 the fleet of electric vehicles in Europe, including both battery electric vehicles & plug-in hybrids, amounted to 3 million. In the next 10 years e-mobility is expected to continue to grow. In fact, by 2030 it is likely that more than 40 million electric vehicles (EVs) will be on roads throughout Europe. But in order to grow this market further, the industry needs to improve the convenience of charging EVs.
Today, charging an electric vehicle is still pretty complicated and uncomfortable from the customer's point of view. The driver is confronted with several charge cards, applications, multiple charge point operators (CPOs) and roaming partners which is complicating the charging and payment process. The driver may also need to wait to use the service as charging points might be blocked by other cars until they are fully charged. In addition, the driver has to manually connect the vehicle to the charging station. The cable has to be stored in the trunk, which takes up a lot of space. During the charging process the cable can get dirty and wet. With increasing charging power, the charging process is getting quicker, but the charging cables are becoming heavier and are less maneuverable which is compounding the problem even further. Not a great experience, I’m sure you will agree.
Using automated charging to improve customer experience
Understandably, customers demand convenient charging at any time and any place. In my opinion, robotic charging will be a good solution for better usability and an improved customer experience.
Automated charging will become even more relevant in the future due to advances in autonomous driving and driverless parking. In these scenarios, a robot takes over the charging process when the car is parked autonomously without any human intervention. Using automation technology will mean that the manual charging process as we know it today will no longer be necessary.
As we head towards driverless parking and autonomous driving, the development and standardisation of robotic charging will become increasingly important. Naturally, the facility needs to be accessible across all vehicle brands and types, especially relating to the different charging socket positions and interoperability of automated charging systems and vehicles. Making autonomous charging possible would also solve other pain points that EV drivers experience, such as automatic identification of the car, payment for charging and waiting for a free charging point.
But we don’t need to wait until autonomous driving becomes a reality. Robotic charging can already be applied to a number of different use cases today, such as corporate fleets, buses and ultra-fast charging stations.
Automated charging is not a topic for the future - it can already be beneficial today
Let’s look at corporate fleets as an example. Today, most EV fleets still need a charging point for each vehicle. Since the parking time of EVs often exceeds the actual charging times, the charging stations usually show low utilisation rates. In such cases, robotic charging could help to optimise the charging process. One charging station combined with a mobile robot will be sufficient for charging several EVs. When connecting a charging robot to the fleet management calendar it will be even able to charge cars in an optimised order, so that each car will be ready for its next use at the right time. Therefore, robotic charging will not only improve convenience while taking the burden off personnel, it will also improve utilisation of charging points.
Here are some more examples where robotic charging can be beneficial.
- Mobile robotic charging mounted on the ceiling would be useful for charging e-buses in depots where space is at a premium.
- Distribution trucks have a limited time for loading and unloading, so fast charging is a priority and a prerequisite. Automated charging at every stop saves time, reduces costs and enables the use of smaller battery sizes to facilitate the transition to e-trucks.
- At ultra-fast charging stations automated charging helps to provide comfort due to the weight of the charging cables. It also helps to charge more EVs in a shorter time frame, thus avoiding unnecessary waiting time at charging parks when more EVs will be on the road.
I am convinced that automated charging will enhance the convenience and efficiency of charging and will act as an enabler for autonomous driving. However, it will take some time to implement fully automated commercial robotic charging. This time will be needed to introduce a standardised framework for an interoperable solution that is applicable for all types of electric vehicles. Moreover, preconditions such as interoperability between different charge point operators and providers ensuring automatic identification of the car and payment of the charging processes, need to be clarified.
Until then focus should be on a step-by step automation of the charging to enable easier cable handling and semi-automated charging of commercial vehicles. It is crucial to gain a better understanding of customer demands and carry out the appropriate development of technical requirements, norms and smart integration of automated charging into the overall energy system at customers’ sites. This should be jointly developed between car manufacturers, robotics companies, providers and operators of charging infrastructure and energy utilities.
Some pilot projects, focusing on robotic charging, already exist. Although these projects are still in prototype status the results are promising. By working together and finding solutions that combine the power of technical excellence and innovation we will meet the needs of the customers to enable a smooth and even faster transition to e-mobility.
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