Charles, a French robot that charges electric vehicles

We meet the robot Charles from the movie Brian and Carlos directed by British Jim Archer. From now on, it will be necessary to count on another Charles, also a robot of his condition, but occupying other functions. It is in fact a 100% French creation signed by Lyon start-up Mob-Energy, founded in 2018 by Salim El Houat, general manager of Mob-Energy, Ilyass Haddout (CTO) and Maxime Roy (COO).

Today, the acceptance of the electric vehicle by the population depends not only on autonomy, but also on a simple, efficient and affordable electric charging infrastructure. Despite the approximately 71,630 public charging points (September 2022), we are far from the mark, especially in underground car parks and airports. Some operator-installers, such as Bump and Shell, have invested in this niche, which requires a lot of investment.

Based on this observation, Mob-Energy envisioned Charles, a robot whose task is to recharge electric and hybrid vehicles. Rectangular (187 x 82 x 78.5 cm) and weighing around 550 kg, Charles is capable of moving up to 5 km/h and on slopes of up to 12% thanks to its six wheels and emergency brakes.

It is equipped with specific technologies for robotics, such as 2D and 3D LiDARs signed by the American Velodyne, cameras and a battery of ultrasonic sensors (Valeo). The set is coordinated by two computers, while a third is dedicated exclusively to autonomous driving. It also comes with a 5G connection, allowing you to stay in touch with a supervisory center.

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As soon as an obstacle arises, Charles stops instantly and resumes his journey after that. However, it may happen that the customer is too close to his car, thus hindering the robot. In this case, supervision takes place remotely.

In their bowels, they house second-life batteries from Mercedes-Benz Energy, a subsidiary of Mercedes-Benz, with which Mob-Energy has signed a partnership. These eight to ten year old batteries are still operational for storage and discharge.

Today, Charles carries 52.1 kg of batteries corresponding to a useful capacity of 15 kWh. It can thus recharge up to 20 cars/day. Charging speed ranges from 7.4 kW (AC) to 30 kW (DC).

The offer of 15 kWh seems low, but corresponds to additional costs. In fact, according to Salim El Houat, general manager of Mob-Energy, the owner of an electric car already has a terminal at home or has the possibility to recharge at his place of work. Thanks to Charles, it will recover 100 km of autonomy in 20 min (30 kW DC).

Once his batteries are dead, Charles leaves to refuel at his base as a robot vacuum cleaner. In the near future, Charles robots will transport Mercedes-Benz recycled batteries (up to 40 kWh) at 22 kWh, thus allowing to increase the power up to 45 kW (DC).

Dedicated application and required elbow grease

The demonstration we saw took place in the underground car park of the Mercedes-Benz France headquarters, where there are 40 charging stations (AC and DC). The guinea pig of the day was an EQC 400.

Once parked, the driver activates the ME Charge mobile app to request a recharge. After a series of validations, you are asked to connect a mobile connection module available in a rack provided for this purpose to the vehicle’s charging socket. Once installed and the shoe deployed, Charles departs for the Mercedes location and positions himself above the shoe, which also serves as a charging socket. The only visible cable is the connection module connected to the vehicle. Once recharged, the driver is notified and all he has to do is unplug the module and store it in his rack. In the case of multiple requests, Charles is able to prioritize.

Today, in addition to Mercedes-Benz France, which anticipates a hundred robots by 2025, Charles officiates in Lyon, Strasbourg and Paris – a fourth location is expected to be born. Mob-Energy plans to produce 30 turnkey systems, including software, technical assistance and maintenance. Lyon start-up leaders do not give precise prices. However, based on the number of modules and not counting the installation, we estimate this dear Charles at between €100,000 and €150,000.

Unlike many American and Asian players that offer fueling robots that only work on… YouTube, Charles may be the working solution of the moment. This robot should interest parking managers who want to offer an electric charging service without costing an arm and without a mountain of paperwork.

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