Ford charging robot
The robot charging station could make charging far more accessible for disabled drivers.

Car manufacturer Ford has developed a prototype robot charging station that will enable disabled drivers to stay in the car while charging, or they could leave the car while the robot does all the work.

Filling a car with fuel, or charging an electric vehicle is a simple task for some, but for disabled drivers, people with reduced mobility and older people it can be a significant challenge.

The technology enables drivers to operate via their smartphone from inside their electric vehicle.  Disabled drivers have already identified ease of charging as a key purchase consideration for electric vehicles.

A recent survey by the Research Institute for Disabled Consumers showed that 61 per cent of disabled drivers in the UK would consider buying an electric vehicle only if charging was made more accessible.Ford charging robot 2

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Ford is testing the robot charging station as part of a research project to develop hands-free charging solutions for electric vehicles and fully automatic charging for autonomous vehicles.

Following initial lab testing, Ford researchers are now putting the robot charging station to the test in real-life situations.

Once activated, the station cover slides open and the charging arm extends towards the inlet with the help of a tiny camera. For the trial, drivers were able to monitor the charge status via the FordPass app.  After charging, the arm retracts back into place.

Birger Fricke, research engineer, Research and Innovation Center, Ford of Europe, commented: “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.”

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.

Looking ahead, the process could become fully automated, Ford has stated, 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.

A follow-up project with the charging network provider IONITY will look to further improve the robot charging station.

Ford is also researching into robot charging solutions in combination with Automated Valet Parking, as demonstrated at IAA in Munich, Germany, last year. The feature developed by Ford enables drivers to use an app to send the vehicle into an automated parking manoeuvre – all from outside the vehicle.

Last year it was announced that national disability charity Motability had partnered with the Department for Transport in commissioning the British Standards Institute (BSI) to develop accessibility standards for EV charge points across the country.

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