Volkswagen Announces e-smartConnect - The Automatic Charging System
As battery technology advances and capacities increase, recharging methods must keep pace. If EVs are to ever eclipse the internal-combustion engine, they’ll need to be equally easy-to-use, convenient and quick when it comes to topping off the juice. To that end, Volkswagen has announced an automated quick-charge system called e-smartConnect.
Currently, rapid DC charging requires the use of heavy, awkward cables. VW wants to take the responsibility of connecting these cables out of the hands of the driver and put it into the mechanical grip of a robot.
Using a lightweight “LBR iiwa” automaton from the German robotics company Kuka, the system fixes a low force/moment cable into the EV’s recharge socket automatically. The robot uses seven drive axles and integrated torque sensors to make sure the connection is snug, while an integrated camera on the robot’s gripping device calculates the socket position with millimeter-precision.
Paired with this is an automated parking system. To initiate the recharge process, the car communicates with the charging station, sharing information via a set profile, which is interpreted by the recharge station. The station then responds with exact coordinates on where the car should be positioned, which the automated parking system then executes.
Once the car is charged, the robot arm removes the charger from the car’s socket and stores it on the station, which is then transported via conveyor belt to the next EV awaiting electricity.
VW says this effectively takes the human element out of EV charging, ensuring “safe and reliable human-robot collaboration (HRC).”
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Why it matters
Don’t get me wrong – I like this kind of stuff. I find human-robot collaboration fascinating, and as automated systems become more ingrained in our daily lives, especially with regards to transportation, I expect things to become more convenient and easier to use.
There’s a lot of stuff going on here – robot arms, automated drive systems, transferred data – all to circumvent the (relatively small) hassle of parking and plugging in.
However, I don’t necessarily think things will get simpler, and this system is a fantastic example of why. There’s a lot of stuff going on here – robot arms, automated drive systems, transferred data – all to circumvent the (relatively small) hassle of parking and plugging in.
This seems, to me at least, to be an over-engineered solution to a relatively low-priority problem. Simply hooking up the cables necessary to charge an EV can be a bit of a pain, but the bigger problem with EVs, at least in my mind, is overall recharge times.
The traditional ICE-powered vehicle takes only a couple of minutes to gas up, whereas even the fastest “supercharger” stations take well over an hour to fill a depleted battery to full. And the problem isn’t in parking the car or plugging in, but the rate at which energy is transferred from the outlet to the battery pack. Simply put, we’re at the limit of the technology.
Of course, the technology is progressing quite rapidly and I expect average recharge times to fall dramatically in the next decade or so. In the meantime, the e-smartConnect system is just one more automated system to look out for as the robots begin their inevitable takeover.
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