CarLa – this is the name of the ever-so accommodating assistant who will handle the time-consuming job of charging electric cars for drivers in the future.
At least, this is how the Volkswagen Group and the automation specialist KUKA described their view of the future at the Geneva International Motor Show: The passenger will get out of the car outside the parking garage. His or her electric car will then head off on a search for a parking place and will be charged by CarLa once it has found one. No person will have to stand around while filling up their car or fiddle with a charging plug anymore.
“The biggest challenge we faced in developing CarLa was the automated charging process,” said Till Reuter, CEO of KUKA AG. What type of intelligence do a robot and a car need in order to interact with each other? How does the door to the charging socket open? How can the robot’s sensors find the charging socket? How will it know that the car has been fully charged? All of these questions had to be resolved before the “CarLa” research project could be unveiled to the general public. From the very earliest development phase, robotic experts from KUKA have worked together with members of Volkswagen Group Research.
The technical secret to CarLa’s success
The technical secret to CarLa’s success is the patented wheel concept “omniwheels,” a technology that enables it to autonomously maneuver in the most confined spaces. Its robot arm is based on the human arm. It has seven axes and is capable of working in virtually any environment. With the help of an installed camera, the robot can scan the area around the charging socket of a car and then position the plug with millimeter precision.
A very special touch
“As far as safety goes, we apply the same standards for the service robot that we use in human-robot collaboration in a factory,” Reuter said. The robot’s arm is equipped with joint torque sensors in each joint, a technology that enables it to perform jobs that require a very special touch. “As a result, the robot works safely in its environment because it can react immediately to every disturbance and every barrier and stop or get out of the way.”
An industry standard
The first pilot applications of CarLa can be quickly started, Reuter said. The robot’s interfaces can be modified to meet any manufacturer’s requirements. As a result, the helpful assistant has what it takes to become an industry standard. “The principle can also be applied to other applications,” he said. “We have come up with a smart robot solution for your garage at home, too.”
Independent, active lives for a longer period
The future appears to belong to service robots like CarLa. In the long term, they could even become multifaceted helpers that could perform more and more boring chores. The potential jobs for robots are very wide-ranging, Reuter said. Some people need help with pressing lemons. Others want someone to play cards with. But the big picture involves something more than convenience and entertainment. In countries with aging populations like Germany, CarLa and robots like it could become important care providers for the elderly. Reuter said: “Service robots could do things like help senior citizens shop and enable them to lead independent, active lives for a longer period of time.”
In the long term, service robots could even become multifaceted helpers that could perform more and more boring chores.