Electrify America Tests Robotic Charging

Autonomous fleet vehicles to charge without human intervention in new pilot project
Photographs courtesy of Electrify America

RESTON, Va. – In a glimpse of the future of fueling, Electrify America is piloting a robotic charging system for autonomous fleet vehicles.

Electrify America, a Volkswagen subsidiary that is rolling out electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure in the United States, has partnered with Stable Auto, a San Francisco-based EV fleet charging company, to develop and test a robotic charging solution for autonomous EVs.

The companies cite the expected rise of electric and autonomous vehicle fleets in piloting the dedicated charging facility. The pilot aims to charge autonomous EVs without human intervention using a robotic apparatus attached to a 150kW DC fast charger. The San Francisco facility would be Stable’s first commercial autonomous charging site and should open in early 2020.

In developing the charging solution, Electrify America will evaluate the hardware, network, operations and billing of its charging systems to determine the best approach for autonomous charging fleets. It has provided two 150kW DC fast chargers to Stable for the initial development stage.

Stable, which will manage the project, will integrate its robotic technology and scheduling software with Electrify America’s chargers. The goal is to charge self-driving EV fleets without human intervention. In practice, an autonomous vehicle would park itself in a standard parking space, and a robotic arm would automatically connect the vehicle and the charger. Black & Veatch, a provider of global infrastructure for clean-tech transportation, will serve as engineer for the project.

“Autonomous vehicles will play an important role in the future of driving, particularly with fleets, and tailored charging options for self-driving EVs will be critical to develop that effort,” said Wayne Killen, director of infrastructure planning and business development for Electrify America LLC, Reston, Va., in a statement. “We’re excited to partner with Stable to be at the forefront of learning more and developing those charging solutions.”

“We are proud to partner with Electrify America in this first step toward drastically accelerating the reach of electrification and autonomy,” said Rohan Puri, co-founder and CEO of Stable. “Our models have shown dramatic improvements to fleet utilization and operating cost per mile when fleet vehicles are paired with automated infrastructure in strategically chosen locations.”

As part of Volkswagen’s 2016 settlement with the U.S. government and California over diesel emissions cheating, the automaker established Electrify America to help guide $2 billion in investments in zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) infrastructure, access and education programs. Electrify America’s first round of investment—Cycle 1, which launched in January 2017 and concluded this past June—has focused on rolling out a national network of EV charging stations. The autonomous-charging pilot is part of the Cycle 2 investment plan, which runs from July 2019 to December 2021, and continues the focus on infrastructure buildout as well as optimizing charging site design, hardware and back-end solutions. Two additional 30-month investment cycles are planned, with all $2 billion slated to be spent by the end of 2026.

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