Volkswagen Turns To Kuka For Robots For Autonomous Electric Cars

3 months ago by Mark Kane 14

Volkswagen Gen.E

Volkswagen has announced a strategic partnership with automation specialist KUKA for the development of a robot-supported charging connection.  KUKA is already (mostly) known as the robotics supplier for the Tesla Model 3 production line in Fremont, California.

Joint development of robot-based innovation concepts for vehicles of the future has now been agreed following the signing of a new Cooperation Contract by the Chief Executive Officer of Volkswagen AG, Matthias Müller (left), Head of Research and Development at the Volkswagen Group, Ulrich Eichhorn (right), and the Chief Executive Officer of KUKA AG, Till Reuter (middle).

The idea of an having automatic connection between the vehicle and charging station isn’t new, and even Volkswagen did some experiments few years ago (see video below).

However, with autonomous cars coming, there is now also a need to charge them autonomously (with the other, and likely more sensible option, being wireless charging).

It will be interesting to see the results of the VW and KUKA partnership, but even taking into consideration if a new, viable solution is found, it will need a new standard to go along with it.  Not such an easy thing to establish.

“Autonomous automobiles and service robots are two subsidiary aspects of mobility in the future. These aspects will be analysed jointly through the strategic partnership.”

“The new cooperation links up with an existing joint research project looking into collaboration between human and robot. The e-smart Connect project includes a practical and user-friendly solution for charging high-voltage batteries of electric vehicles produced by the Volkswagen Group. This involves a KUKA robot independently connecting up the vehicle with a charging station in a specially developed application. The driver simply has to position the electrically powered automobile in a designated parking space. The robot takes care of connecting up the charging cable for the driver.”

Chief Executive Officer of Volkswagen AG, Matthias Müller said:

“We are working intensively on structuring the mobility of tomorrow. This is not simply about innovative vehicle concepts but encompasses completely new requirements in the service sector,”

Till Reuter, Chief Executive Officer of KUKA AG said:

“In future, robots will support humans in many routine tasks. And everyday life in future will be inconceivable without autonomous driving. We will work together on innovative concepts in order to shape this future,”.

Head of Research and Development at the Volkswagen Group, Ulrich Eichhorn said:

 “Autonomous vehicles will contribute to making mobility safer, simpler and more convenient. This includes innovative services associated with the automobile. Our aim is to use the new strategic partnership to develop other opportunities in this area.”

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14 responses to "Volkswagen Turns To Kuka For Robots For Autonomous Electric Cars"

  1. Michael Will says:

    Maybe they should have bought the German company kuka instead of letting the Chinese buy it out last year. Fail.

    1. john Doe says:

      KUKA should never have been sold.

      If you look over the years, you can see how chinese companies over time – buys more and more western technology companies.
      Everything from companies doing base research to chemical, metal processing, medical and so on.
      It is a smart choise for them, but the west have to take care of their technology and companies that is important for their economy.

      KUKA is just one company in a line of technology companies being taken over by the Chinese.

      It is OK if they keep running the companies the way they have – but if production is moved to China, we’re is a world that hurts pretty soon.

      At the university we had several copiers from different time periods used in the field I was studying. On the older machines, parts like motors, bearings, bushings, solenoids, electromechanical clutches and what not – was made in Japan, Europe and the US. The machine was made in these countries as well.
      On the newer models, the first series of the machine was made in Japan, and then the production was moved to China.
      The next model had several parts made in China, but by Japanese companies. The next series was made in China, and more and more parts was made by Chinese companies in China.
      I’m sure that the only western and Japanese made parts in a new machine are small electronic components made in Germany, the US (like Intel) and Japan (like Kyocera/Ricoh/Toshiba).
      I understand the labor is cheaper, and there are few regulations – but even though a copier is not rocket science, parts of the machines are highly advanced. We should try to keep production jobs like that in the west – and use automation and smart design to cut costs. Focus on quality and products that last longer.. . not that I think that is going to happen..
      I know that a product like iPhone is made in China by Foxconn, and that the cost of assembly is just 6% of the cost of the device (production cost, not retail cost).
      I know Apple does not make anything in the US, and have not done so in many many years. They design a product, using technology developed by other companies, produced by other companies and order the parts, and let a Chinese partner assemble the final product.
      If they (Foxconn) ever start a production facility in the US, it will be to do the final assembly of a product that is almost ready. It will also be very automatic, and require few workers.It will be the phone alternative to a complience EV.

      Too many board members and owners are interested in fast cash, and don’t plan for the future.

      China is smart to invest money this way.

      I was in Africa two years ago, and was surprised to see a lot of Chinese workers building highways, and other infrastructure. Using Chinese materials and machines.

      They has also leased huge areas that they developed to grow food, they were going to bring back (mostly) to China again. Investing in advanced watering systems, and generally made the area more fertile.
      Many chinese people had moved to one are too, and were busy doing business of one kind or another. Raising chickens, fixing electronics, selling stuff (made in China).
      Maybe it is a win win situation.

  2. Vaporator says:

    After DieselGate, VW is a mess. You would think the largest car company would have planned better for EVs and self driving. Looks like they decided to count beans, build obsolete ICEVs and issue vaporware for immediate profits instead of advancing R&D. Now it’s catch up time.

  3. CDAVIS says:

    Perhaps after Volkswagen & Kuka spend more years solving the great mystery of how to use a commodity robotic arm for robotic EV charging Volkswagen will start solving how Volkswagen plans to provide convenient & reliable Supercharging Network access to their EV offerings… if all goes well perhaps as soon as 2027?

  4. EV-A says:

    I’m curious what the reasoning is behind this alliance.

    It wouldn’t be my first thought for making many low-cost, low-maintenance, reliable charging station. Perhaps I’m missing part of the picture? As an EV driver, I don’t mind the 10 seconds it takes to plug in. Higher cost and/or a failing charging station due to this added complexity however, that would be a bigger issue to me.

    ps. If you would go this “hands-free” route, wouldn’t induction charging (despite charge losses) be a better solution?

    1. CDAVIS says:

      @EV-A asked: “I’m curious what the reasoning is behind this alliance[?]”

      It allows Volkswagen to advertise itself as currently working towards building a convenient & reliable Supercharging Network without currently working towards building a convenient & reliable Supercharging Network.

  5. john doe says:

    You guys should stop bitch and moan about VW.

    You should know that KUKA makes highly reliable robots. A robotic arm will still make it reliable.

    You should know Audi have working prototypes of Wireless charging, and have performed tests for at least two years.
    They do also know the limitations and concerns with that solution…and the advantages.

    With a fully autonumous car, there is no way the customer is in the car when charging, with a few exceptions.
    The car drives you to work, a concert, the opera, dinner and while you’re there your autonomous connected vehicle knows how long you’ll be busy – and will cruice to a charger near the location you are, that is not in use. Right before you’re finished with what you’re doing it will be juiced up and waiting for you.

    Superchargers are good and all. Depending om where tou live. . There are chargers all over the place from several companies. I still charge mostly at work (free + by the time I’m finished at work, the battery is charged to the level I want.
    I drove to a place in Germany this weekend. Didn’t have a lot of time, so I chose the ICE car and drove about 680km before the first stopp. Then another 400km. On my way home I drove 1200km between two stops.
    The distance and speed is not something an average EV can handle yet. Would have taken a while even at high speed chargers.
    If I didn’t have my ICE car I would’ve had to take an extra day off work. If it was not for the heavy diving equipment and the extra passengers I would have been on a plane or a train.

    Fast chargers are nice, and for many a yes or no to an EV. But for most buyers it’s not used that much. They charge at home and work.

    1. EV-A says:

      You actually make a fair argument for using an automatic charging interface for autonomy reasons.

      Any insights on induction charging versus using robotic arms or any other alternatives? Mainly thinking about ease of use, costs, maintenance and energy usage?

      1. john Doe says:

        Induction is less energy efficient, compared to a regular connection.
        A mechanical connection can also tranfer more juice. (Cavotec has a plug that can handle at least 300kWh. . it just comes down to the batteries and how much they can handle).
        There are also written a lot about potential concerns regarding health (due to the magnetic field), and noice (electromagnetic interference on pace makers and other electronics).
        Some say there is or might be a link between high voltage power lines, magenetic fields and cancer.
        I don’t think I would like the idea to sit in the car while charging using a wireless charger. At the same time, I know it is not ionizing radiation, and should be safe.

        I’m a mechatronics engineer, and just know how it works – but have no idea if there are any real world documented healt related concerns.

        It is illegal to build a kindergarten next to a power transformer or under high voltage powerlines in Norway.

        There have also been a case with people how surved on a navy ship (KNM Kvikk) that got kids with deformities which may have been related to DNA changes due to a powerfull comunication tower on board and an extra powerful radar used for electronic warfare (jammer). Under some situations the radar would send all the power down to the deck of the ship. The Navy paid some millions here, for damages. Some think it was related to paint containing 2-Etoksyetylacetat (2-EEA), and the use of Xylene as a solvent. .
        The radiation levels was way over the NATO limmits at least.. and 4 service technicians at the marine base, who fixed these high power radars got kids with chromosome “errors” ..

        But there is a difference of a wireless charger and a high power radar.

        I’ve included a link to the (US) national cancer institute that explains it better then I can:

        Apart from that, wireless have many advantages.
        1. The coil can be placed under the parkinglot, and if the users have to pay, this can be done wireless too. Car to charger, automatic handshake.
        Maintenance free and easy.

        2. There is no need for a visible charging station, hence less space, less potential for vandalism and theft, less space needed. Not to mention ease of use..
        There are also cheaper charging coils that is bolt/glue on, and has a hight of a few cm.
        In places with proper winters, a solution under ground would be better, or the one that is flush to the road surface.
        This will get much cheaper to install when it is more common.
        I’ve seen tests where the contractor backs a trailer with a built in CNC router in the middle. It cuts to the depth required, and then the device in glued in, flush with the road surface. Clearly a prototype, but it did the job fairly quick, with little or no dust (due to in vacuum dust collector on the trailer).
        In places like California that (skips what many calls the shi**y seasons) has a stable climate, cheap bolt on chargers would potentially be very cheap to install. I’m sure that they could even offer DIY solutions.

        There have also been tests where the coil comes up from the ground, and enters a cavity under the car. More efficient, but more complicated and expensive.

    2. Serial anti tesla troll thomas says:

      Today’s battery capacity is too small for German highways. If I can drive only 1 hour with 200 km/h or more and the battery is empty….I will not come far…or I have to drive slow, but without fun…so my next car will still be a ICE car.

  6. lo says:

    Volkswagen has many many Divisions and each Division has it´s own R/D Department. This is just a .
    This tech-demo-only comes from the R/D at “Volkswagen AG”. They even have their own website.

  7. David H says:

    “KUKA is already (mostly) known as the robotics supplier for the Tesla Model 3 production line in Fremont, California.”

    KUKA is one of the largest supplier of industrial robots. VW has been a long time contractor of KUKA. See for example this video of the VW Golf production line from 2013:

    1. Jay Cole says:

      Just want to note, I don’t think Mark is saying Kuka is new, or that they aren’t a massive company…but most people around here have come to familiarize themselves with the company via Tesla, and Musk’s love to feature (and name) his robots prominently.

  8. Priusmaniac says:

    This resembles the Tesla snake charger. It could however plug many vehicles instead of just one.
    Nevertheless the supercharger version 3, if they use the under the car charging method like in the Tesla released patent documents, could be a more discrete way of charging, even if it would imply new hardware on the cars.
    However it would be interesting to reverse it, having the contacts on the ground and the mechanized connector on the car because then it can also be used for domestic use in a garage or on a parking spot in the street since the car does the work and only two contacts are needed on two small bumps on the ground.

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