COLOGNE, Germany—Ford has developed a prototype robot charging station that drivers operate via their smartphone from inside their electric vehicle. Ford is testing the robot charging station in Europe as part of a research project to develop hands-free charging solutions for electric vehicles and fully automatic charging for autonomous vehicles.
According to Ford, disabled drivers have identified ease of charging as a key purchase consideration for electric vehicles. This technology could enable disabled drivers to stay in the car while charging, or they could leave the car while the robot charges the vehicle.
“Ford is committed to ensuring freedom of movement, and right now refueling 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,” said Birger Fricke, research engineer, Research and Innovation Center, Ford of Europe.
Once activated, the charging station cover slides open and the charging arm extends toward the inlet with the help of a small camera. For the trial, drivers were able to monitor the charge status via the FordPass app. After charging, the arm retracts back into place.
In future, the robot charging station, custom-made by Dortmund University in Germany, could be installed at parking spaces for disabled persons, 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.
Ford said that 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.
The company is also researching robot charging solutions in combination with automated valet parking, as demonstrated at IAA in Munich, Germany, last year.
Ford recently joined 27 companies in a petition to ensure all new cars and vans in Europe are zero emission by 2035 and called for targets to grow EV charging infrastructure in Europe to keep pace with electric vehicle growth rates.
Sourcing and Upgrading Materials
Ford also announced a series of initiatives for sourcing battery capacity and raw materials to reach its targeted annual run rate of 600,000 electric vehicles by late 2023 and more than 2 million by the end of 2026. The company expects a compound annual growth rate for EVs to exceed 90% through 2026, more than double the forecasted global industry growth.
Ford is adding lithium iron phosphate cell chemistry to its portfolio, alongside its existing nickel cobalt manganese chemistry. The company says this creates more capacity for high-demand products and provides customers many years of operation with minimal range loss. It also reduces the reliance on scarce critical minerals such as nickel and, at current costs, brings a 10 to 15% bill of material savings for Ford versus NCM batteries.
Ford confirmed it has secured 100% of the annual battery cell capacity needed—60 gigawatt hours (GWh)—to support this 600,000 EV run rate by working with leading battery companies around the globe.
Global supply-chain issues relating to EV batteries and the minerals needed to produce them will only increase as countries, including the United States, move toward electrification of transportation systems. Though EV batteries can last 10 years, or about 150,000 miles, until they need to be replaced, battery manufacturers are struggling to secure supplies of key ingredients to these large power packs, especially cobalt and lithium.
Ford plans to spend up to $50 billion on its EV initiatives through 2026. The plan is called Ford+, and the company wants investors to value it as a technology company, as Ford and other rivals try to compete with Tesla in the EV space. The increase in spending is being led by former Tesla executive Doug Field. Ford already pledged $30 billion toward its EV investments by 2030. It’s planning to build a new assembly plant and three battery factories.