EV charging robots deployed to E.China rest stop to relieve ‘range anxiety’

A shortage of charging posts, long wait or EV parking spaces hogged by fuel-powered vehicles have long hindered the penetration of EVs in China.

As the penetration of new energy vehicles continues to climb in China, the problem of battery charging is becoming increasingly acute.

To address this issue, Wuxi, a city in eastern China’s Jiangsu Province, came up with a plan to use mobile robots to charge electric cars during this year’s Lunar New Year holiday.

Chinese media reported that in a parking lot adjoining Lake Taihu service station in Yixing, a prefecture-level city under the jurisdiction of Wuxi, two charging robots were deployed in the run-up to the seven-day holiday, an occasion when tens of millions of Chinese are on the roads to head home for family reunion.

After EV drivers entered the parking lot, they could place orders for charging service on a mobile app. Upon receiving the command, a robot would steer itself to the designated spot, plug a charger into the car’s charge port and start charging.

According to media reports, this pair of robots was part of the first batch of “intelligent mobile EV charging piles” operated by the Yixing division of State Grid, China’s state-owned power supplier, to meet surging needs during the Spring Festival travel rush.

Image credit: State Grid

“Currently, the Lake Taihu rest stop is equipped with two mobile robotic chargers. The robots charge themselves to full capacity during off-peak hours at night, enough to replenish power for four to five EVs,” said Xu Jing, a project manager overseeing the operation for State Grid in Yixing. “They provided tremendous convenience for EV owners.”

Unlike traditional fixed charging piles, these mobile robots can move about the establishment flexibly and respond promptly to requests of EV owners.

After each charging session, the robot either returns to base or departs for the next destination to fulfill orders.

However, the Chinese media reports didn’t specify how long it usually takes for a car to be charged.

The trial run of robotic chargers in Wuxi represents a departure from traditional EV charging methods that have encountered numerous issues in the past.

A shortage of charging posts, long wait or EV parking spaces hogged by fuel-powered vehicles have long hindered the penetration of EVs in China.

The race to replenish a car’s battery gets even more fierce during holidays when motorists compete for an insufficient number of charging piles at rest stops along highways, fueling drivers’ range anxiety.

There have even been sporadic reports of EV drivers getting into brawls over access to charging piles in the past few years.

As robotic technology increasingly matures, mobile robot chargers have emerged as a supplement to EV charging from a stationary pile. A few startups have already been lured into the sector by the commercial prospects.

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Ni Tao

Ni Tao is the founder and editor-in-chief of cnrobopedia. Prior to cnrobopedia, he had a full decade of experience with a major state-run English-language newspaper as a tech reporter and opinion writer. He is also a communications specialist, having provided consultancy services to established firms like Siemens, Philips, ABinBev, Diageo, Trip.com Group (Nasdaq: TCOM, HK: 9961), Jianpu Technology (NYSE: JT) and a handful of domestic startups. A graduate of Fudan University, he writes widely about China's business and tech scenes and other topics for global publications including South China Morning Post, SupChina, The Diplomat, CGTN, Banking Technology, among others, and tries to impart his experience to students at Fudan University Journalism School, where he is a part-time lecturer. When he's not writing about robotics, you can expect him to be on his beloved Yanagisawa saxophones, trying to play some jazz riffs, often in vain and occasionally against the protests of an angry neighbor. Get in touch with him by dropping a line at nitao0927@gmail.com.

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