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Robot-Based Fast Charging of Electric Vehicles

Conference Paper · April 2019


DOI: 10.4271/2019-01-0869

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2019-01-0869 Published 02 Apr 2019

Robot-Based Fast Charging of Electric Vehicles


Bernhard Walzel, Mario Hirz, and Helmut Brunner Graz University of Technology

Nico Kreutzer representing BMW Group

Citation: Walzel, B., Hirz, M., Brunner, H., and Kreutzer, N., “Robot-Based Fast Charging of Electric Vehicles,” SAE Technical Paper
2019-01-0869, 2019, doi:10.4271/2019-01-0869.

Abstract
research commissioned by the Austrian Society of Automotive

A
utomated, conductive charging systems enable both, Engineers (ÖVK).
the transmission of high charging power for long In the present approach, the entire docking and undocking
electric driving distances as well as comfortable and process of the charging connector is performed completely
safe charging processes. Especially by the use of heavy and autonomously by a robotic arm. As an essential aim of the
unhandy cables for fast charging, these systems offer user research activities, one novelty of the work includes the design
friendly vehicle charging - in particularly in combination with of the sensor technology and the robot system control, enabling
autonomously driving and parking vehicles. This paper deals charging of different vehicle types in different positions, while
with the definition of requirements for automated conductive no adaptations on the vehicles itself are necessary. Therefore,
charging stations with standard charging connectors and high demands on the procedure for the development of this
vehicle inlets and the development of a fully-automated complex mechatronic system need to be taken into account.
charging robot for electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles. Short charging times and convenient charging processes
In cooperation with the project partners BMW AG, are essential for the successful introduction of e-mobility. In
MAGNA Steyr Engineering, KEBA AG and the Institute of initial work, the state-of the-art of automated conductive
Automotive Engineering at Graz University of Technology, charging systems has been analyzed and requirements on auto-
the development and implementation of the prototype took mated charging systems are elaborated. In the subsequent
place in the course of a governmental funded research project section of the work, the development process of an autonomous
titled “Comfortable Mobility by Technology Integration conductive charging system is introduced and the functionality
(KoMoT)”. The charging system basic design and experiments of the prototype is presented. Furthermore, the results of the
on sensor technologies were carried out as part of contract prototype tests and experiments are introduced and discussed.

Introduction
on the parallel interconnected work in different organizations.

E
urope, the United States, South Korea and many other In particular, five types of activities and organizations can
countries decided for the combined charging system be identified (see figure 1 Level A to E), whose output contrib-
(CCS) as the mandatory charging standard for electric utes to the implementation of an interoperable combined
vehicles. Up to now, the available charging stations equipped charging system. The work presented in this paper is assigned
with CCS allow for manual conductive charging with a power to level D, and therewith constitutes an important contribu-
of up to 350 kW [1, 2]. It is foreseen that the combined charging tion to the comfort charging technologies of “CCS Advanced”.
system will be developed stepwise in the next years aiming to The combination of future autonomous vehicles and
reduce the duration of a charging session through higher communication technologies provides great potential for
charging power and to enhance the charging comfort through connecting driver, vehicle and infrastructure and it enables
automatization. Fig. 1 shows a “big picture” of a possible CCS the implementation of innovative functionalities supporting
roadmap that is currently discussed in CharIN e.V. [3]: The customer comfort and enhanced services. Due to certain
combined charging system is proposed to be developed in advantages, e.g. the relatively slow vehicle speed, automated
three major steps, denoted as “CCS basic”, “CCS extended” parking will be established as one of the first self-driving func-
and “CCS advanced”. At each step, new CCS charging tech- tions. Figure 2 shows a concept proposal of a future shopping
nologies as well as new charging features are introduced. center, providing customer-friendly and innovative service
To enhance the acceptance of e-mobility products, the concepts. It offers optimized driving lines for self-parking
interoperability at the interfaces between the electric vehicles vehicles, automated petrol filling and electric vehicle charging
and charging stations is a crucial aspect. The development of as well as automated car cleaning. After arrival, passengers
interoperable CCS charging technologies and features is based can leave the vehicle at the main entrance of the shopping
© 2019 SAE International; BMW Group. All rights reserved.
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2 ROBOT-BASED FAST CHARGING OF ELECTRIC VEHICLES

 FIGURE 1   The „big picture“ (proposal) shows the transmission performance, which prefers conductive
development of the combined charging system (CCS) within charging systems (CCS).
potential steps. Each step shows possible CCS charging Figure 3 shows a comparison of possible electric driving
technologies which are driven by parallel interconnected ranges when charging with different electric power at a
activities in different organizations (Level A-E) that lead to an charging time of 15 minutes. In contrast, figure 4 depicts the
interoperable charging technology. The research project required charging time to achieve a driving range of 100 km.
“KoMoT” can be assigned to level D (Technical knowledge, The calculations are based on an average energy consumption
prototypes, scientific publications), where it contributes to the of electric vehicles of 22 kWh per 100 km. This value has been
development of the charging technology of step 3: Comfort determined by conducted test drives [5] and considers charge
conductive charging using an automatic connection device and discharge losses of 10 percent. As shown, fast charging
with side coupler. [3]
technologies with power capacities of up to 170 kW (state-of-
the-art) [6] and perspective of up to 500 kW [7] are able to
reduce the charging time significantly. Based on this perspec-
tives, 15 minutes of high power charging can be expected to
provide sufficient energy for a driving range of up to 500 km.
Automated conductive charging can be the key to enable
charging of electric vehicles quickly and user friendly.
Focusing on a prompt and contemporary integration, one
crucial requirement is the use of standardized charging inlets
and communication processes.
© 2019 SAE International; BMW Group. All rights reserved.
The aim of the present work includes the development
and evaluation of a prototype system for charging various
types of electric vehicles automatically via standard cable-
connection. The research activities include the identification
of the technological requirements, the development of a

 FIGURE 3   Comparison of the driving range in case of 15


minutes charging with different charging power levels.

 FIGURE 2   Future shopping center concept with new


customer-friendly comfort services. [4]

© 2019 SAE International; BMW Group. All rights reserved.

 FIGURE 4   Comparison of the required charging time for a


driving range of 100 km.

© 2019 SAE International; BMW Group. All rights reserved.

center. Subsequently, the car is able to perform different tasks,


e.g. autonomous parking and pick up as well as self-directed
electric charging.
Besides the application in shopping centers, automa-
tion has a great potential to enable fast charging.
Considering typical long-distance traveling scenarios and
the evaluation of potential use of electric cars, one crucial
factor represents the provision of quick recharging tech-
nologies, e.g. during brakes of about 15 minutes at motorway
service areas. This requires a significantly higher power © 2019 SAE International; BMW Group. All rights reserved.

© 2019 SAE International; BMW Group. All rights reserved.


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 ROBOT-BASED FAST CHARGING OF ELECTRIC VEHICLES 3

robot-based and sensor-guided prototype concept, and the  FIGURE 5   Selected drawings of patented systems for
implementation and testing of the prototype. automated charging of electric vehicles. Left: Moveable vehicle
In the first step, the state-of-the-art of automated charging charging robot. [10] Right: Robot arm coupled to a charging
technologies has been analyzed. The next step deals with the body. [11]
preparation of the requirements on automatic charging
systems using standard charging inlets. Following, the evalu-
ation and selection of different robot and sensor systems is
performed. The subsequent steps include the conception and
development of the mechatronic system, integrating sensor
technology, robot kinematics and robot control. Prototype
tests with different vehicles are applied for the evaluation and
assessment of working capabilities and robustness of the
prototype charging station.

State-of-the-Art
In this section, state-of-the-art of automated conductive © 2019 SAE International; BMW Group. All rights reserved.
charging systems are analyzed, including e.g. market and
development benchmark, literature and patent research as
well as investigation of published works. Due to major differ- Honda introduced a system with a feeding coupler that
ences in relation to vehicle integration, space requirements is combined with a receiver coupler at a vehicle. Special
and technical implementation, the systems are separated into features of the feeding coupler are the compensation of vehicle
vehicle side- and vehicle underbody-coupler. displacements and a fixing mechanism that keeps the two
connection parts in position. [12]
A concept introduced by GM is based on a robot-like arm.
Vehicle Side Coupler The arm moves the end effector with four degrees of freedom.
The robot is guided by a camera system. Possible fail alignment
One reference represents the project “e-smartconnect” from
of the end effector during the connection process are compen-
Volkswagen, which is based on a KUKA-robot. In the
sated by a retractable guide around the charging connector.
published version of the research prototype, the charging inlet
Figure 6 shows the retractable guide. [13]
of the vehicle has to be positioned in a target area of 20 by 20
The invention of Hollar enables convenient charging of
centimeters. A camera on the robot detects the exact position
electric vehicles without user intervention by using an auto-
of the charging inlet with an accuracy of one millimeter.
mated docking system. The system uses cameras and a
Following, the robot-gripper picks the DC-connector and
processor unit to guide a robotic arm to the charging inlet.
connects it to the charging inlet of the vehicle. At the end of
The patent claims comprise the method of an automated
the charging process, the robot-gripper unplugs the
charging system including a video device. A video camera
DC-connector. [8]
sends data to a computing platform that identifies the location
A publication of Tesla presents a snake-like prototype
of the charging receptacle of the vehicle by a vision-based
robot that is searching its way to the charging inlet autono-
algorithm. [14]
mously. Once the connection between the robot and the
vehicle is established, the charging process is started. Detailed
technical information about the vehicle charging inlet detec-  FIGURE 6   Selected patent drawings of [13]. Left:
tion, connector positioning and charging process itself is not
Schematic representation of a charging connector for a robot
described. [9]
arm end effector. Right: Illustration of a coupling unit with a
Figure 5 shows selected patented systems for automated
retractable guide.
charging. The example on the left side shows a robot that is
designed for SAE-1772 or similar charging types. A special
feature of the concept is, that the robot is mounted on a
moveable platform. So, the robot system can move to the
charging inlet of an electric vehicle. A plug latch system at
the end effector of the robot arm is responsible for opening
and closing the inlet lid as well as for the connection process
by pulling the charging connector into the charging inlet.
[10] In the concept on the right side of figure 5, a camera
module obtains an image of the location of the vehicle’s
charging inlet. Location recognition is determined by
comparing the camera image with a predefined image of an
inlet of a same model. [11] © 2019 SAE International; BMW Group. All rights reserved.

© 2019 SAE International; BMW Group. All rights reserved.


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4 ROBOT-BASED FAST CHARGING OF ELECTRIC VEHICLES

Vehicle Underbody Coupler One challenge is covering the large variety of electric
vehicles to be  charged, including different charging cap
Alternatively, the vehicle can be charged conductively from systems and charging cap positions. In the automotive
the bottom side. Exemplary, the concept of Brown consists of industry, there is no standard for the position of the charging
a charging plate mounted on the floor that is moved to a inlet defined. An investigation of various vehicle types shows
charging device mounted at the vehicle. [15] At the concept considerable differences regarding the inlet position depending
of Horvath [16], the vehicle is charged by a plug apparatus that on the car brand and type. A second challenge can be found
connects a plug adapter at the vehicle. The plug adapter is fixed in the charging cap mechanism. Several vehicles have a
at the underbody of the car. When a car approaches to the security cap that makes it impossible to charge the vehicle
charging station, an actuator opens a flap and the plug appa- without removing it. Some brands have a rubber plug that has
ratus connects the vehicle from its bottom side. to be unscrewed, others have a plastic flap. [18]
The concept of VOLTERIO represents itself as the first As a third challenge the handling and management of
fully automatic charging solution. The system consists of the cable is relatively complex. In case of high power charging,
two basic components, a connection array that is mounted heavy cable technologies have a limited bend radius and
in the middle of the car underbody, and a base station. require a lot of space that limits the robot movements. Cooled
A position validation system ensures the correct vehicle charging cables are an alternatively solution to decrease the
position for automatic connection. After the system checked cable diameter and enable high charge currents under the
the authorization and the battery state of charge, the compliance of temperature limits [7], but this technology
charging process starts automatically. The base station might also lead to stiff cable behavior.
moves upwards to the connection array at the car underbody Figure 7 shows a typical situation at a parking facility
and connects the system. After completed charging, the with different parked vehicles and the resulting charging inlet
system disconnects automatically. Announced charging positions. Especially in case of manual parking, it is not
power is 22 kW AC with a feasible charging power of up to possible to park exactly on a predefined position. That’s why
400 kW DC. [17] the position of the charging inlet varies with each parking
process. An accurate positioning of the vehicle charging inlet
related to the connector at the charging station would require
Conclusion of the precisely driving maneuvers, which is difficult to achieve in
State-of-the-Art Analysis real-life applications. Furthermore, different loading situa-
tions of the vehicle, the wear of suspension spring systems and
Some of the investigated systems are customized for one the tires, as well as different tire pressures result in variations
specific vehicle model, others require an equipment of the cars of the charging inlet position.
with adapters. This includes the weakness, that vehicle As mentioned, these varieties of systems and vehicle-
adapters are costly and might increase the vehicle mass. specific requirements complicate an automation of the
Furthermore, specific adapters are difficult to be standardized. charging process enormously. Thus, electric vehicles are not
To fulfil requirements of market-readiness, an automated prepared for automated charging today. Concerning this, a
system should be able to charge every electric vehicle inde- standard for autonomous charging has to be established to
pendent from the type of car or charging connector by using enable charging of different types of cars under different
standardized components. boundary conditions. The use of existing standard connectors
The analyzed concepts consist of a robot or a mechanical and inlets does not require adaptions at the vehicle. Therefore,
device and sensor technologies to find and identify the it seems to be advantageous to develop an automated system
position of the charging inlet at the vehicle. Furthermore,
systems for compensating incorrect positioning during the
connection process are described. Based on the analysis  FIGURE 7   Vehicle positions in parking lots resulting in
results, following main challenges for the development of a different charging inlet positions (red points). [18]
new system are identified:
•• Effective localization of the charging inlet position
© 2019 SAE International; BMW Group. All rights reserved.

•• Compensation of positioning tolerances


•• Accurate control of the robot-device

Challenges
The main idea of automated charging systems is to provide a
very easy and comfortable charging process. After benchmark
and invention analysis, such systems have been introduced in
different ways  - from a purely technical point of view.
Nevertheless, there remain some challenges that need to
be addressed, which are described in the following section.
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 ROBOT-BASED FAST CHARGING OF ELECTRIC VEHICLES 5

that is able to charge all kinds of electric cars without a neces-  FIGURE 9   Test vehicle for the automated charging
sity for specific modification of the established standardized prototype. Left: Side view of the vehicle with open charging lid.
charging connectors. Center: Side view of the closed charging lid. Right: View of the
Figure 8 shows a selection of existing standard charging CCS vehicle inlet with unplugged plastic flap.
connector types. Current norms are the European standards
for charging cables (e.g. Type 2 connector and the CCS
connector for AC and DC quick charging), CHAdeMO (espe-
cially in Asia and USA), or the Tesla standard. The possible
charging power reach from the widely used low power plugs
with household electric charging capacities up to announced
500 Ampere and 1000 Volt with the CCS charging system. [7]
In order to use the full benefits of automated charging systems,
future preferred charging connectors with the ability for ultra
and extreme fast charging should be taken into account. Due © 2019 SAE International; BMW Group. All rights reserved.

to this, the present prototype development focuses on the CCS


Type 2 and CCS Combo 2 system, which will be the most charging lid is made of plastic, has a smooth surface and can
widely supported charging standard in Europe in the future. be opened by hand by pressing on the left side of the lid at
Present standard inlets and connectors are not specifi- mid-height. The lid opens automatically and stays in its final
cally designed for automated connection. As a result, from position at the right side of the charging inlet. The protective
Type 1, Type 2 and CCS Type 2 connector coupling tests plugs can be  pulled out and fastened at the lid. During
during the development of the present system, several influ- charging, the charging connector is locked at the vehicle side
encing factors have been identified, which could complicate and must be unlocked at the end of the charging process. After
the plug-in process. This includes the application of compo- disconnecting the cable, the protective plug can be returned
nents from different manufactures, cables and inlets deforma- to its original position. The lid must be guided from right side
tion because of temperature differences, and misalignments in a quarter circular motion to the left side, until the lock
of connector in relation to the inlet during plugging. In case mechanism is triggered, holding the lid in position.
of manual connection, these issues mainly can be solved by As mentioned, present electric vehicles (includes the
twisting and shaking of the connector, which significantly introduced BMW i3 model) are not prepared for autonomous
reduces the force effort and prevents tilting. There are two charging. The following precautions are necessary to enable
ways to handle these challenges with an automated system: automated charging with a robot-based system, which might
On the one hand, the imitation of human handling behavior be considered for future electric cars:
by a robotic system, which is difficult to realize. On the other
hand, the automated process can be performed by a highly 1. The remove- and insertion-process of protective plugs
accurate positioning of the connector relatively to the inlet. complicates the robotic system. The integration of
protective caps at the tank lid enables direct access to
In any case, the combination of both approaches, and that
the charging inlet after opening the lid. As an
implemented with a failure-tolerant control strategy, could
example, the charging port of the Audi e-tron [20]
enable a successful automated charging system, that is able to includes a modern system prepared for automated
handle the mentioned occurring tolerances. charging. For the prototype tests in the present work,
Following section describes a common scenario of the protective plugs have been removed.
opening and closing a vehicle’s charging port for access to the
2. The charging lid should open and close automatically.
charging inlet. Figure 9 shows one of the series vehicles that
In addition, open charging lids should not reduce the
have been used for the prototype tests, the BMW i3. The
access of a robotic arm to the charging inlet.
charging port is attached at the right sight of the vehicle, above
the rear wheel house at a height of approximately 95 cm. The 3. Future automated charging, especially in combination
with autonomous driving functions, requires
communication between vehicle and charging
 FIGURE 8   Overview of different standards for charging infrastructure for the authorization, connection,
connectors. [19] managing the charging process and disconnection of
the cable. In this way, a communication standard
between car and infrastructure has to be established,
e.g. based on the existing ISO 15118 standardization,
to provide rules for the communication in case of
automated charging. [21]

To enable a successful joining of the connector with the


inlet of the vehicle and to avoid tilting during the plug-in
process, an exact in-line movement of the connector relatively
to the inlet is required. From the mechanical point of view,
especially robot systems for industrial applications can fulfill
the demand in high accuracy for moving the connector into
© 2019 SAE International; BMW Group. All rights reserved. the end position of the inlet. But due to the variable inlet
© 2019 SAE International; BMW Group. All rights reserved.
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6 ROBOT-BASED FAST CHARGING OF ELECTRIC VEHICLES

 FIGURE 10   Representation of the rotations of the yaw- systems of radio technologies e.g. wireless local area network
pitch-roll convention. [23] (WLAN), Bluetooth, or radio frequency identification
(RFID) can be used. Because of the high variety of sensor
systems, a full listing of all technologies is very comprehen-
sive. Figure 11 shows the coverage and accuracy of different
sensor position technologies, which are categorized by [24]
into 13 different technical groups. For the selection of
suitable sensor technics in the present project, an accuracy
range from 0.1 to 1 mm and a maximum working distance
of 10 m has been defined. The 10 m working range is based
on the maximal expected distance from the sensor to the
end of the charging lot. The upper accuracy range of 1 mm
is defined by the requirements on a sufficiently accurate pose
detection. The aim is to find sensor technology that enables
high accuracy under reasonable cost boundaries. In this way,
© 2019 SAE International; BMW Group. All rights reserved.
the yellow area in the diagram indicates potential sensor
systems for the present application. This includes tactile and
position differing in each charging process, a predefined path combined polar- as well as camera technics. Because of the
cannot be  applied. In this way, the exact position of the insufficient accuracy and limited operating range, other
charging inlet has to be determined by a combination of a sensor types, e.g. WLAN or RFID are not able to satisfy
highly-accurate sensor system and a performant robot path the requirements.
computation and control.
The determination of an object’s position represents a
typical application in the field of robotics and computer vision. 3D-Sensor Technologies
In this domain it is common to describe the combination of The robust detection of 3D-scenes is an important demand
the position and the orientation as “pose” of an object. for the present application. Suitable 3D-sensor technologies
3D-poses can be described by different ways. Typically, they under consideration of the accuracy and working range
are used for two purposes: On the one hand to describe the are  3D-vision, structured light and time-of-light (ToF)
position and orientation of one coordinate system to another - systems. Every technic has system-specific advantages
for example the 3D-location of the charging inlet in relation and disadvantages.
to the camera or a robot-based coordinate system. On the Table 1 shows a comparison of selected sensor technolo-
other hand, they are used for the description of the mathe- gies in terms of outdoor use, robustness under different
matical transformation of coordinates between coordinate weather and light conditions, as well as costs. With infrared
systems - for example the transformation of object coordinates sensors and technologies based on structured light, the
into camera coordinates. In comparison to the description of distances to objects can be determined precisely, but the use
the position of an object in space, the description and formula- in the outdoor area is restricted. Tactile and combined polar
tion of the orientation is more difficult. Equation 1 describes systems have a very high accuracy of 0.01 mm on few meters.
the orientation formulation of an object, also referred in litera- One disadvantage is the high price of several 10,000 dollars
ture as yaw-pitch-roll convention. The chain of the rotations for such systems. [24] 2D- and 3D-cameras should be able to
can be read in two ways. Read from right, the rotations are meet the requirements. They are relatively cheap and, by
based on the origin or unchanged coordinate system. Read
from left, the rotations are based on the new or local coordi-
nate system. [22] The coordinate- and rotation system of the  FIGURE 11   Defined operating ranges of sensor systems for
yaw-pitch-roll convention is represented in figure 10. As robot control, according to [24].
mentioned, the determination of the pose of the charging inlet
has to be as accurate as possible for the present application.
For this purpose, a closer examination and evaluation of state-
of-the-art sensor technologies is necessary, to which the next
section is devoted.
R gba = R x ( RotX ) × R y ( RotY ) × R z ( RotZ ) (1)

Sensor Technologies
In this section, selected sensor technologies are investigated
and evaluated for possible application in automated charging
systems. For the position determination of objects, different
sensor technics, e.g. laser, LIDAR, vision systems, ultrasonic © 2019 SAE International; BMW Group. All rights reserved.

© 2019 SAE International; BMW Group. All rights reserved.


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 ROBOT-BASED FAST CHARGING OF ELECTRIC VEHICLES 7

TABLE 1  Evaluation of suitable sensor systems for automated charging.

Bright light Low light


Sensor performance performance Outdoor Weather robustness Material costs
2D-camera Good Weak Yes Weak Low
Laser and LIDAR Good Good Yes Good Very high
3D-camera Good Weak Yes Weak Low
Structured light Weak Good No Weak Medium
ToF-cameras Good Good Yes Good High
© 2019 SAE International; BMW Group. All rights reserved.

provision of vehicle geometry data, not only the position of


the vehicle and the charging inlet position can be determined, Prototype
but also a vehicle type classification is possible. However,
robustness under different weather conditions cannot be guar- In this section, the development of the charging station proto-
anteed yet and tests are necessary to evaluate the functionality. type is introduced. This includes the mechanical layout and
Exemplary, surface properties of the examined object, envi- design, the definition of an automated charging process, the
ronmental influences, e.g. lightning conditions or reflections, charging inlet pose estimation, the matching model, the cali-
can significantly blur the advantages and disadvantages bration of the cameras as well as the robot control.
of cameras.
Layout and Design
Sensor Tests Figure 12 shows a CAD-model of the charging station proto-
Charging inlet pose detection and plug-in experiments have type and a detailed CAD-model of the robot head tool. The
been carried out under lab conditions with a high precision station consists of robot (1), head tool (2), frame (3), cameras
3D-vision system based on stereo cameras. For these tests, a (4, 11), light-emitting diodes (LED) (6, 10), robot control box
standard Type 1 connector and a standard Type 1 vehicle inlet (5), rubber damper (7), CCS Type 2 connector (8), two adapters
were used. Table 2 shows the results of 10 test runs with 2 (12, 13) and actuator (9).
different charging inlet test angles in relation to a rigid posi- As a basis for the prototype serves the collaborative robot
tioned stereo camera system. Not fully inserted plug-in UR10-CB3 (1). The safety features of this robot allow people
processes are justified by misalignment or missed rotations to be in the working area of the robot without the need of a
of the charging connector. [26] specific safety fence. The repeatability of this robot type is
The test vehicles are equipped with a standardized CCS specified with plus / minus 0.1 mm. [27] Force torque control
Combo 2 inlet that is able to transfer high power currents. enables contact detection as a programmable resilience. The
In comparison to the Type 1 connector that was used in the prototype frame (3) is made of aluminum shape modules and
lab tests, the CCS Type 2 connector is significantly larger. In has compact dimensions of 960 mm to 820 mm at the ground
this way, a potential misalignment of the connector has even area and a height of 2140 mm. Two LEDs (6) on the frame (3)
worse influence on the insertion process. In order to improve and the LED (10) on the robot head tool are supporting the
the detection accuracy of the charging inlet by the use of vision system in case of insufficient light conditions. The
cameras, the 3D-detection process with cameras had to
be improved. Especially the position and the field of view of  FIGURE 12   Left: CAD-model of the automated charging
cameras showed an important influence on the accuracy station prototype. Right: Robot head tool with adapter,
and robustness.
actuator, camera and LED.

TABLE 2  Summary of plug-in experiments with a Type 1


© 2019 SAE International; BMW Group. All rights reserved.

connector and Type 1 inlet and different inlet angels. [26]


Charging inlet Charging inlet
Experiment angle 10° angle 30°
1 Success Success:
Misalignment
2 Success: Failed: Missed
Misalignment rotation
3 Success Success
4 Failed: Missed Success:
rotation Misalignment
5 Success: Success:
Misalignment Misalignment
© 2019 SAE International; BMW Group. All rights reserved.

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8 ROBOT-BASED FAST CHARGING OF ELECTRIC VEHICLES

cameras (4, 11) are responsible for vehicle position and


charging inlet pose detection and have been arranged for this
Charging Process
task in an optimized way. The process of vision system position Automated charging of different car types requires the devel-
and orientation, as well as the field of view of the cameras is opment of a comprehensive charging process. Figure 14 shows
discussed in more detail in the next section. The robot head the flow chart of the introduced charging process sequences.
holds a small LED and is designed to fulfil the requirements The whole process can be divided into two basic activity fields.
of limited space and to enable closing of a charging lid by use This includes the activities responsible for object recognition
of an actuator. Two adapters (12, 13) integrate and hold the (blue dashed line) and the activities of robot control and move-
parts in a compact system that is connected with the robot. ments (red dashed line). In the following, the individual steps
One adapter (12) is made of aluminum, the other one (13) is of the process are explained:
made of 3D-printed plastics to reduce robot head weight and
1. Wait position: If the station is activated, the robot
at the same time to improve robot control and cable handling.
waits in start position for a charging task.
The movement of the robot head - and thus of the charging
connector - results in a sum of sectional performed move- 2. Recognition I: The system checks the occupancy of
ments of the robotic system. The total accuracy of the the charging lot by camera 1 and 2. If an object enters
movement is influenced by the accuracy of the vision system, the lot, the system begins to search the vehicle. In the
present approach, the contour of the vehicle fender is
the control and the motion accuracy of the robot, as well as
used for classification of the vehicle type by the use of
by mechanical deviation and tolerances of the components.
vision matching algorithm. As an option, the
Additional influencing factors include temperature extension, authentication of the vehicle type can be managed by
vibrations and environmental impacts. In this way, the communication technologies, e.g. according to the
movement accuracy of the prototype is limited. The amount communication standard (ISO 15518) [21].
of the deviations in mm of the charging connector to the Nevertheless, for safety issues a redundant verification
desired position is calculated as the sum of a chain of several of the vehicle type should be considered. If the vehicle
deviations. Equation 2 includes the individual parts of the is recognized and identified, the system goes to the
total deviation of the prototype, which consist of robot, sensor next step.
system (cameras, matching model, matching algorithm, 3. Recognition II: According to the applied
camera calibration) manufacturing (CCS inlet tolerances, communication standard, the start signal for
CCS Type 2 connector tolerances, adapter tolerances) and charging is given by the driver (or autonomous car)
stiffness of the material used for the robot head adapters. and sent by a communication channel from the
DPrototype = DRobot + DCameras + DMatching model +¼ vehicle to the charging station. This means that the
(2) vehicle, respectively the driver, has to initiate the
+ DMatching algorythm + DCamera calibration + DManufacturing + DMaterial charging process. [21] In case of the presented
prototype charging station, the trigger to start
Important influences on the positioning deviation behavior charging is the opening of the charging lid. When it is
stem from the measuring errors of the cameras and the subse- fully open, the charging inlet is completely visible for
quently performed image processing methodology and algo- camera 1 and 2. Subsequently, the step “Recognition
rithm. Furthermore, the processing of the CAD-model used II” starts searching for the position of the charging
for 3D-matching with the camera images as well as the camera inlet. When the charging inlet is found, the position
calibration play an essential role. Figure 13 shows the pre- data are compared with stored data of the vehicle. The
defined coordinate systems of the prototype. Successful next step starts if the charging inlet is recognized
plug-in requires accurate matching of the coordinate system within the pre-defined working range of the robot.
“connector” with the coordinate system “inlet”. 4. Sensor-based positioning: In this step, the robot
moves via a predefined path and distance to the front
 FIGURE 13   Overview of the coordinate systems of the of the charging inlet.
charging station prototype. 5. Recognition III: This step is responsible for the
accurate detection of the charging inlet pose by use of
camera 3. Details of this matching process are
explained in more detail in the following sub-section.
If the charging inlet is detected accurately and
robustly, the data are processed and transformed for
the subsequently performed highly accurate
robot movements.
6. Dock and connect: The robot head is moved directly
in front of the charging inlet face and aligns with its
axis, which represents the plug-in direction. In the
next step, the robot plugs-in the connector until the
end position is reached. The charging process starts.
7. Disconnect and undock: This step includes
withdrawal of the connector and closing of the
© 2019 SAE International; BMW Group. All rights reserved. charging lid. After charging, the robot plugs-out the
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 ROBOT-BASED FAST CHARGING OF ELECTRIC VEHICLES 9

 FIGURE 14   Steps of the automated charging process. charging connector and closes the charging lid by a
predefined movement. Different cars have dissimilar
lid kinematics. Therefore, the closing process requires
different robot-arm movements to avoid collision
with vehicle components. In case of the exemplary
test vehicle, a linear actuator at the robot head
extends and retracts by a length of 100 mm before
and after the charging lid closing operation. After the
charging lid is closed, the robot arm moves back to
the start position and waits for the next charging task.

Inlet Pose Detection


3D recognition of objects is an important task in different
robotic systems applications. Shape-based 3D matching uses
the contours of known objects to determinate the position
and orientation (pose) in a camera image. The 3D-shape model
is generated from a CAD model and consists of 2D projections
of the 3D object from different views. Figure 15 shows the
match and pose results of two exemplary objects in an image.
The poses of the objects are characterized by a translational
and rotational information and are pre-specified in relation
to the camera coordinate system. [28]
The process of 3D shape-based matching consists of the
following steps: Firstly, the 3D-CAD model is created.
Secondly, the CAD model is used to create 2D projections
from different views. For this, virtual cameras are placed
around the 3D object model and the 3D contour is projected
into the lens plane of each camera position. A 2D representa-
tion is computed for each view. In the next step, the shape
model is used for searching the object in an image. In the
matching process, the 2D shape representations are used to
find the best matching view. During this, the pose result is
improved step-by-step. [28]
In the course of the prototype development, the recogni-
tion and determination of the inlet pose based on 3D shape-
based matching has been divided in two steps, “Recognition
II” and “Recognition III”. Figure 16 shows the placement and
the field of view of the 3 mono cameras. Field of view and
objective lens of each camera are optimized regarding the
© 2019 SAE International; BMW Group. All rights reserved.

 FIGURE 15   Example of shape-based 3D matching. The


shape-based 2D models (black contours) matches the contours
of the searched object in the image (brown object). [28]

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10 ROBOT-BASED FAST CHARGING OF ELECTRIC VEHICLES

 FIGURE 16   Charging station side view with an exemplary  FIGURE 17   Left: CAD model as template for shape-based
representation of the field of view of the vision sensors. Left: 3D matching. Right: Matching result of an image from the
Field of view of Camera 1 and Camera 2. Right: Field of view of robot-head mono camera.
Camera 3.

© 2019 SAE International; BMW Group. All rights reserved.


© 2019 SAE International; BMW Group. All rights reserved.

expected distance between the camera and the object of


interest under consideration of the 3D shape-based matching
procedure. Camera 1 and Camera 2 are mounted on the frame
of the robot and are responsible for the process “Recognition world coordinate system and the 3D camera coordinate
II”. 3D shape-based matching algorithms are used to obtain system. In contrast, the internal camera parameters do not
the pose of the charging inlet. In this context, the rotational depend on the position or orientation of the cameras with
parts R x, Ry and R z are not important, only the translational respect to a given or known coordinate system, but rather
components X, Y, and Z are from interest. With this informa- describe the internal geometry characteristics of the camera,
tion, the robot is able to move to the front of the inlet face with e.g. the focal length f and the optical center of the image plane
a predefined distance. The third mono camera, which is of the camera. [30]
mounted on the robot head, is responsible for the accurate In the present project, calibration of the cameras has been
detection of the inlet pose during process “Recognition III”. carried out with the “HALCON” vision software by the use
As a difference to the previously performed step “Recognition of a calibration plate with chess pattern. After determination
II”, the X, Y and Z coordinates and the rotations R x, RY and R Z of the internal and external camera parameters, the coordinate
are from interest. transformation information between the position of the coor-
dinate system of the three cameras and the robot coordinate
Matching Model system has been elaborated by use of two different calibration
methods. On the one hand a calibration method for moving
A suitable 3D CAD model is important for the creation of the cameras for the camera on the robot head and on the other
3D shape-based matching model. In the present project, the hand a calibration method for stationary cameras for the two
3D CAD model of the inlet front surface has been converted cameras on the prototype frame.
to a 2D model represented in a DXF file-format for further The camera parameters are essential for the 3D shape-
processing by use of the vision software “HALCON” [29]. One based matching model. For example, they are applied to obtain
important issue of the introduced process is to define the scaling of the object projections by use of the focal length
position of the coordinate system in the 3D CAD model. gained by the camera calibration. Furthermore, a distortion
Position and orientation of the inlet in the camera image are of the lens has to be taken into account.
related to this point and computed in a subsequent step.
Figure 17 shows the 3D CAD model with the defined coordi-
nate system and a positive matching result during tests. Robot Control
The pose of the inlet in relation to the coordinate system Robot control is managed by a MATLAB [31] script code
of Camera 3 is displayed in colors: red for the X-direction, model from [32], which has been modified for the prototype.
green for the Y-direction and blue for the Z-direction. Path control of the robot head is managed by a point-to-point
steering concept with a Cartesian path control in combination
System Calibration with a linear interpolation. [33] This allows straight move-
ments very precisely. In the present application, all robot axes
Calibration of the cameras represents an important factor are moving and stopping simultaneously. The collaborative
influencing the precision of a sensor-guided robot system. functions of the robot allow movements in the near of humans.
Because of the complex prototype sensor concept, the calibra- In case of problems or to high actuation forces, e.g. because
tion process includes several steps. In the first step, the internal of a collision or a misalignment, the robot stops. Therefore,
and external camera parameters of each camera are obtained, the force limit has been defined to 250 Newtons. The inlet
e.g. for the compensation of image distortions. The external position depends on the vehicle parking position. In the proto-
camera parameters describe the relationship between the type test series, the inlet position has been expected in a
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 ROBOT-BASED FAST CHARGING OF ELECTRIC VEHICLES 11

 FIGURE 18   Exemplary robot positions during docking and robustness of the system and determination of the maximal
plug-in. possible vehicle parking position misalignment.
Figure 19 shows resulting charging inlet positions after
individual parking and the corresponding inlet positions for
the evaluation of functionality and operating range of the
charging station prototype. The left illustration depicts the
relative position of the charging inlet in relation to the robot
base. In the course of the test series, 31 parking tests were
carried out by 11 different test drivers. 9 of the 11 drivers
parked for the first time at the charging station parking lot.
The charging lot was marked in a size of standard parking lot
dimensions. With a length of 5 m and a width of 2.3 m, usual
dimensions of a parking lot for perpendicular parking were
used. [34] In all 31 tests, the charging inlet was placed within
the working area of the robot. The mean distance of the
charging inlet in relation to the robot base after parking was
© 2019 SAE International; BMW Group. All rights reserved.

0.87 m in X-direction and -0.07 m in Y-direction. The mean


duration of the plug-in process was 24 seconds, for plugging-
out 22 seconds.
Subsequently performed tests investigated the behavior
of the robot at the maximum working range and large vehicle
misalignment positions of up to plus / minus 15 degrees in
relation to the charging station. The test scenario is shown in
figure 19, right. Within this working area, a total of 42 experi-
ments (6 basic positions whereby each included 7 maximum
positions) were carried out. The charging process has been
divided into 4 steps:
1. Docking (connector positioning in front of the
charging inlet)
2. Plug-in until the end position of the charging inlet
position plus / minus 500  mm in the Y direction, 400 to
1400 mm in X direction and 0 mm to 800 mm in Z direction 3. Plug-out
relative to the robot base. Special attention has put to the 4. Closing of the charging lid
movement of the charging cable. A stretched cable would lead
to high tensile forces acting on the robot head, a sagging cable The results of the so-called “robustness tests” are shown
could grind on the ground. With the target to prevent both in table 3. Docking, plug-in as well as the plug-out process
cases, the robot path control considered the handling behavior were carried out successfully in all 42 tests. Just two times, on
of the cable. test position 3, at 10 and 15 degrees vehicle rotation angle in
Examples of robot path computation based on three
different inlet positions are shown in figure 18 (green, pink  FIGURE 19   Left: Resulting charging inlet positions (blue
and blue), whereby the robot path during docking and plug-in points) from parking events of test drivers. Right:
operation are represented. It starts with the waiting position Representation of the 6 charging inlet test positions to
(1). Position 2 is implemented because of cable-handling evaluate the robustness of the charging station.
issues. Position 3 is calculated as a function of the obtained
charging inlet position from Camera 1 and Camera 2. The
positions of steps 4 to 6 are calculated by the inlet pose infor-
mation from Camera 3. At step 5, the connector is fully aligned
© 2019 SAE International; BMW Group. All rights reserved.

with the inlet’s Z-axis. Plug-in happens between step 5 and 6.


During plug-out and undocking, the positions 4 to 6 are ran
through in reverse order. The path for closing the charging
lid by the linear actuator is specially developed for the test
vehicle and is not described further here.

Prototype Testing
Various experiments and test scenarios have been performed
out for evaluation of the prototype. This includes tests with
human drivers parking the car to investigate functionality,
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12 ROBOT-BASED FAST CHARGING OF ELECTRIC VEHICLES

TABLE 3  Summary of the results of the plug-in  FIGURE 21   Left: Arrangement for testing of the system
motion experiments. robustness in different vehicle parking positions and parking
Process Result Annotation angles. Right: Outdoor tests on a parking lot with standard
Docking 42 times successful -
dimensions at Graz University of Technology. Further
information of the outdoor test can be retrieved by a published
Plug-in 42 times successful -
video [35].
Plug-out 42 times successful -
Charging lid closing 40 times successful Incorrect positioning
of the actuator
© 2019 SAE International; BMW Group. All rights reserved.

relation to the robot Z-axes, the charging lid was not suffi-
ciently closed until its end position. In this way it was shown,
that even if the accuracy of the position sensor system
decreases with increasing vehicle parking angles relatively to
the robot system, the tests were carried out successfully with
a high level of robustness. © 2019 SAE International; BMW Group. All rights reserved.

Charging of Different Vehicles the robot system outdoor. Thus, at any time, ambient light was
Figure 20 shows a use-case for subsequently performed available sufficiently to represent the contours and outlines of
charging of different vehicles. This represents a possible future the charging inlet with sufficient contrast for object recogni-
scenario of automated charging in large parking facilities, e.g. tion and identification.
in shopping centres or at rest stops. In this test series, Vehicle
2 waits until Vehicle 1 has finished charging and left the
charging station. If the charging station is free, Vehicle 2 enters
the charging lot and the charging process starts again. In case
Summary
of a larger number of vehicles, this process repeats until all
This paper presents the development of an autonomous
vehicles are charged. During the test series, the two vehicles
charging station prototype for electric cars. The introduced
have been charged automatically several times without
charging process does not require specific adaptation of the
user intervention.
cars to enable automated charging. In this way, a non-modified
standardized CCS Combo 2 vehicle inlet has been used for
Outdoor Testing the present prototype investigations and test series.
The first part of the work provides an analysis of the state-
For the evaluation of the sensor system robustness, outdoor of-the-art in automated charging technologies for electric
tests were carried out. Figure 21 shows both indoor and vehicles. In the following, challenges of developing an autono-
outdoor conditions of the tests. The lighting conditions on a mous connection process with standard cables are identified.
parking lot at the Campus of Graz University of Technology It is highlighted that especially the variable parking positions
were much brighter than during the tests in a laboratory hall. of the cars to be charged requires an accurate recognition of
In contrast to the hall tests, the LEDs were not activated by the charging inlet pose and a precisely controlled robot system
for a successful connection. Besides this, the broad variety
and technical differences of vehicles and charging cap systems
 FIGURE 20   Test case of subsequent charging of a number represents a challenge.
of vehicles. Further information of the test case can As a basis for highly accurate object identification, sensor
be retrieved in a published video sequence [35]. technologies for inlet pose detection are evaluated and a recog-
nition concept is developed. A combination of robot control
and position-depending recognition is introduced enabling a
precise detection of the charging inlet position. Comprehensive
the tests and experiments have supported the optimization of
the charging process. It is shown that the presented approach
enables charging of vehicles without complex vehicle adapta-
tions under different conditions indoor and outdoor.
The results of the research activities highlight the prom-
ising possibilities of automated charging of electric vehicles
by use of a robot-controlled system. The new approach has
been implemented in form of a prototype and enables a full
automation of cable-based charging processes with CCS Type
2 connectors. In this way, the presented concept is able to close
a major gap between automated parking functions and cable-
© 2019 SAE International; BMW Group. All rights reserved. based vehicle charging.
© 2019 SAE International; BMW Group. All rights reserved.
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 ROBOT-BASED FAST CHARGING OF ELECTRIC VEHICLES 13

However, the presented approaches such as prototype 11. E-In W., Hon Hai Precision Industry Co Ltd, “Battery
layout and design, automated charging process, inlet pose Charging System and Apparatus and Method for Electric
detection (with customized matching models) and robot Vehicle,” US Patent 9,662,995, Grant May 30, 2017.
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Tesla Supercharger. General requirements of automated Operations LLC, “Robotically Operated Vehicle Charging
conductive side charging are successful vehicle and charging Station,” US Patent 9,266,440, Grant Feb. 23, 2016.
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future investigations will focus on the further development
15. Brown W., “Method and Apparatus for Automatic Charging
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Acknowledgement 16. Horvath et al., “Automated Electric Plug-in Station for
Charging Electric and Hybrid Vehicles,” US Patent
The authors want to express their acknowledgement to the 20110066515, Mar. 17, 2011.
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KEBA AG and the Austrian Society of Automotive Engineers for E-Mobility,” 2018, www.volterio.com, accessed Oct.
(ÖVK) for the excellent cooperation and the permission to 10, 2018.
publish the work and to the Austrian research funding asso-
18. Walzel B., Sturm C., and Fabian J., “Automated Robot-Based
ciation (FFG) and the Austrian Federal Ministry of Transport, Charging System for Electric Vehicles,” Presented at in
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14 ROBOT-BASED FAST CHARGING OF ELECTRIC VEHICLES

30. Hanning, T., High Precision Camera Calibration First


Edition (Germany: Vieweg+Teubner Research, 2011).
Definitions/Abbreviations
ISBN:9783834814135.
2D - two dimensions
31. MATLAB (Version R2016b), Computer Software,
3D - three dimensions
Mathworks, Natick, MA, 2016.
AC - alternating current
32. Fereshteh A. “UR5 Control Using Matlab,” Updated 2015,
https://www.mathworks.com, accessed Sep. 10, 2016. Ah - ampere hours
33. Wüst K. “Grundlagen der Robotik,” 2004, Technische CCS - combined charging system
Hochschule Mittelhessen, https://homepages.thm.de, DC - direct current
accessed Jan. 4, 2017.
DXF - drawing interchange file format
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Second Edition (2009). ISBN:9783211892381.
EU - European Union
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Video Link: https://www.youtube.com/ LED - light-emitting diode
watch?v=QlJiWI92Jso, Aug. 13, 2018. LIDAR - light detection and ranging
RFID - radio frequency identification
Contact Information Rgba - Yaw-Pitch-Roll convention
R x(RotX) - rotation around the X-axis
Bernhard Walzel, MSc. Ry(RotY) - rotation around the Y-axis
Scientific Project Assistant
Institute of Automotive Engineering Rz(RotZ) - rotation around the Z-axis
Graz University of Technology SAE-J1772 - charging standard
Inffeldgasse 11 UN - United Nations
A - 8010 Graz
USA - United States of America
Phone: +43 316/873-35278
bernhard.walzel@tugraz.at WLAN - wireless local area network

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