If you have an electric car but can’t charge it at home—as is the case for apartment dwellers who park on the street—finding a place to plug in can be challenging. Your employer might have chargers in your office parking lot, but if they sit in only a handful of spaces and those spaces are occupied, you’re out of luck. A prototype from Volkswagen demonstrates an alternative: a mobile charging robot that can roll from car to car and plug itself in.
“Every parking space can become a charging point,” says Tim Fronzek, a spokesperson for Volkswagen Group Components. “The robot brings a power bank directly to the vehicle. This is a quick and easy solution to electrify parking garages with enormous economic potential.”
The system uses a set of mobile power banks and a small self-driving robot that can carry each unit to a car. A driver could summon the robot via an app, but the design also shows how the system could work with what’s called “Car to X” technology that autonomously communicates between the car and other devices, like the robot. The robot steers itself to the car, opens the charging socket, and connects the plug to a mobile charging unit. It can then bring more of the power banks to more cars to charge at the same time, and then travel around the garage disconnecting everything when the charging is complete, bringing the power banks back to a central charging station.
For now, because Car-to-X technology isn’t widespread, it doesn’t make sense to roll out the new robots just yet. But they represent one potential solution for the major transition needed in infrastructure as electric cars become more affordable than gas cars, and eventually more common. (Volkswagen itself plans to stop developing internal combustion engines by 2026 and be all-electric by 2040.) The robotic system is less expensive than installing traditional charging stations. In California alone, where the state plans to ban new gas and diesel-powered car sales in 2035, at least 1 million new charging points will be needed by the end of this decade.
Correction: We’ve updated this post to correct the timeline for VW’s transition to electric vehicles.