State Grid (国家电网), the state-owned power supplier, deployed an army of mobile robot chargers to EV charging stations and highway rest stops across the nation in late September, in anticipation of surging demand for power replenishment.
In Wuhan, capital of central China’s Hubei Province, mobile EV-charging robots provided by the local subsidiary of State Grid navigated the parking lots in highway service areas, in search of vehicles in need of charging services.
The robot fulfills orders placed by users on a mobile app. It pilots itself to the designated spot, whereupon users plug the charger into their vehicles.
“Today, many drivers came here to charge their cars. All the piles are occupied,” said Zhu Xing, a driver with a ride-sharing service operator on September 28.
Zhu drove to the EV charging and battery swap spot at Hankou Railway in Wuhan, only to find all the parking spaces for EVs were full.
After placing an order on his mobile phone, a sleek robot came to his aid.
As EV penetration continues to rise in China, problems like a shortage of charging facilities have become increasingly acute, posing a hurdle to the industry and aggravating what many EV drivers refer to as “range anxiety.”
Despite the efforts of infrastructure builders, the expansion of EV charging networks has yet to keep pace with the proliferation of EVs in China.
Mobile robots capable of taking the charging service to end-users offer a solution.
“During peak hours, mobile robot chargers can practically ‘run’ to provide on-the-spot power replenishment to cars waiting for an empty charging post,” Wang Xi, general manager at the EV charging unit of Wuhan’s energy supplier, was quoted as saying.
Wang added that to brace for a spike in charging needs during the Mid-Autumn Festival and National Day holiday break, his employer adopted these robots and put them to use on a trial run.
Reverse the situation
Such a robot can produce 60 KW of power and boasts 184 KWh, allowing users to fast-charge their car under a 60 KW DC mode or slow-charge with a 7 KW AC port.
Wang, the manager, told media that the rates for the mobile robot-powered services are the same as standard charging piles.
According to him, a single robot can replenish the batteries of five to six EVs to 80% full.
“With the equipment, we can reverse the situation, from EVs looking for piles, to the other way around,” Wang noted. “This will effectively relieve the ‘charging anxiety’ for EV owners.”
In extreme cases, Wang said the mobile robot can also help in emergencies, where EVs in urgent need of a charge are miles away. In these cases, mobile robots can be dispatched to EVs running low on electricity and about to break down on the road.
“Within 2 km, the robot can autonomously make its way there,” said Wang. “To deliver emergency support to areas beyond 2 km, we will drive the robot to the scene.”
Expand the scheme
State Grid plans to expand the scale of scheme, steadily increasing the robot fleet to 10 ahead of next year’s Lunar Chinese New Year, where hundreds of millions of people are on the move to head home for family reunion.
Apart from supplying them to EV charging stations across the city, Wuhan power suppliers also look to provide them to underground car park and garages of shopping malls and residential communities.
Besides, the robots will likely be equipped with accessories and technologies like mechanical arms and cableless charging to explore more diverse application scenarios, media reported.