Will EVs Refuel on the Road?

Florida researchers see a future in which self-driving cars recharge peer to peer on the highway.

May 05, 2020

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—If airplanes can refuel mid-air, then why not electric cars? A new idea from the University of Florida suggests that could be possible, reports New Atlas.

According to researchers, one benefit of self-driving cars will be their ability to drive nose-to-tail at high speeds as their drive computers synchronize to serve as a single vehicle, creating huge aerodynamic efficiency benefits. But why should the front vehicle pay a higher energy price to push through the air while everyone in the back enjoys the benefits of its wake? That may not be an issue if a proposed energy-sharing system takes off.

The Peer to Peer Car Charging (P2C2) system proposes that robotic charging arms could reach out to connect autonomous vehicles as they convoy along the freeway, using one vehicle’s battery to charge up another.

“We envision a safe, insulated and firm telescopic arm carrying the charging cable,” according to a paper by the Florida team. “After two EVs lock speed and are in range for charge sharing, they will extend their charging arms... The arms’ heads will contain the charging ports, and they will latch together using either magnetic pads or other means.”

A mechanical connection is one way of transferring a charge, but wireless inductive charging might also be possible. A central control system, located in the cloud, would guide a pair of EVs to move closer and come into the same lane. The donor EV would sustain the second EV with critical battery condition.

For a robo-taxi fleet operator, cars would no longer need to leave the road and spend time recharging in a garage. Instead, they could simply meet up with a “battery truck” for a recharge on the way to their next destination.