CARL the Robot Will Charge Your EV in Our Gleaming, Carefree Future04/21/2020
We knew that we should probably welcome our new EV-charging robot overlords when we first learned of the concept a few months ago, but there is now something of a race among automakers to field the first one.
Volkswagen revealed late last year it had been working on several types of wheeled robots, shaped not too dissimilarly from astromech droids in Star Wars, that will tend to EVs in the parking lots and garages of the near future. The idea behind charging robots is that, yes, while you yourself can still plug a cord into your car if you’re in a lot with charging stations, there is also a way to make the charging station come to your car if there are not enough stations available.
The proposed solution? Robots acting as parking lot attendants, locating cars needing a charge. The cars themselves would notify the robots or you would via an app. The robots then roll up and plug the car into a mobile battery housed inside the robot. As Volkswagen imagined the concept, one robot’s task is to open the car’s charging port and plug in cords, while another type of robot would act as the mobile power source, just like the GNK droid in Star Wars.
So far it looks technically feasible in the prototype stages, at least in a controlled environment. China’s Aiways has received several patents for a robot named CARL (yes, like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character in Terminator: Dark Fate) that can find and charge vehicles in a parking lot by itself.
The robot will be built in 30- and 60-kWh forms, and will be able to fast-charge EVs to 80% in 50 minutes, according to Aiways. After it charges one car it moves on to the next, opening and closing charging ports by itself, or will return to its dock to charge its own self. The idea is, large parking structures feature a fleet of CARLs offering charging services. Aiways plans to market the robots to corporate and private customers alike, though we imagine businesses with large parking lots (and a lot of visitors driving EVs) would be first in line.
Is this the future of EV charging? We remember a time when inductive charging with touch-free charging pads underneath cars was said to be the charging future. CARL and his droid buddies, with something as large and hefty as a 60-kWh battery inside, sound neither inexpensive nor light, all while serving as a charging station.
Whether it’s cheaper to install more individual, fixed charging stations or buy more robots is the question that will be answered some time in the next decade, as these droids progress from tests to the marketplace. (But just in case, we welcome our EV charging overlords and dare not insult them, because they’re robots with enough power on board to zap an elephant into next week.)
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