Ford is taking major steps to relieve driving hurdles for disabled people and others who struggle with basic aspects of mobility but desire to drive a car. Ford has developed a prototype robot charging station that drivers operate via their smartphone from inside their electric vehicles; the technology could enable disabled drivers to stay in the car while charging, or they could leave the car while the robot does all the work.
Disabled drivers have already identified ease of charging as a key purchase consideration for electric vehicles. 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.
The robot charging station is custom-made by Dortmund University, in Germany. In the future, Ford hopes it 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, 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.
Ford says the project complements its commitment to electrification. 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.
Ford’s fast-growing Blue Oval Charging Network provides customers with access to a network of over 300,000 chargers across Europe. To help drivers find charging stations and pay for charging, Ford Charge Assist can be accessed using the touchscreen of Ford’s SYNC 4 connectivity and entertainment system.
For commercial vehicle customers, Ford Pro Charging offers bespoke charging solutions incorporating charging equipment, ongoing maintenance and management software that help reduce time-consuming paperwork and charge schedule planning.
Ford recently joined 27 companies in a petition to ensure all new cars and vans in Europe are zero emission from 2035 and called for targets to grow electric vehicle charging infrastructure in Europe to keep pace with electric vehicle growth rates.
The company believes a unified approach encompassing governments, European Union institutions, the entire auto industry, energy providers, local authorities and consumers is required to accelerate the development of a comprehensive, easily accessible and efficient charging infrastructure at home, in the workplace and in public locations.