Electric vehicles (EVs) are not without their shortcomings, even though much progress has been made. Charging and accessibility are hurdles automakers face, especially as they break into the mainstream car-buying market. Drivers with disabilities are affected by the current EV charging setup that requires long cables. Ford, however, is flipping the script on this issue.
A survey conducted in the U.K. suggests the biggest barrier for drivers with disabilities surrounding EVs is the charging cord. People who use wheelchairs are worried about the cables tangling around them. Around 61% of these drivers said they would buy an electric car if the charging were easier to access for them. Enter Ford’s new robotic charging machine.
This charger cuts out the risk of a tangled cord because no exit is required — a few taps of a smartphone app get the charger to automatically open charging ports on EVs thanks to a camera installed on the arm.
As part of their announcement of the prototype, Ford said, “Looking ahead, the process could become fully automated, with minimal or no driver involvement.” Developed by Dortmund University in Germany, Ford is looking to roll out this charging robot intermittently, starting in Europe and eventually into the U.S.
Ford isn’t the first company to try out new charging methods. In 2015, Tesla experimented with a snake-like automated charger but never followed through with plans. Aiways out of China tried a small charging robot that worked through an app, and EV Safe Charge has plans to launch its own autonomous EV charging station called Ziggy. While these ventures are making charging more accessible, they don’t fully eliminate the wires involved; therefore, there is still a risk posed to drivers with disabilities.
Wireless EV charging presents the best solution to solving this issue. It’s already being tested by firms like BMW and Mercedes, laying some groundwork for future wireless charging stations.
Wireless charging offers significant benefits, besides the reduced risk for drivers with disabilities. Wireless charging would mean less hassle trying to plug in at public charging stations, less need for certain adapters based on car models, less reliance on direct-current charging for quicker rates, and a reduced strain on electrical grids.
So, what’s holding back automakers from developing more wireless chargers? Simply put, it’s costly. It would be thousands of dollars to make a few small wireless charging stations and connect them to existing electrical grids. There are other mitigating factors like the immobility of wireless charging pads, which is the schematic most firms use in testing. Yet, the technology is here and will likely be implemented steadily across the U.S.
Outside price and mileage range, autonomous and wireless chargers are crucial to making EVs more inclusive. While it may be a while before the U.S. has a more centralized wireless charging network, technology like Ford’s is a stepping stone to more innovations. Ford’s new robot arm literally and figuratively opens doors in EV driving.