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Volkswagen and Kuka research ways to use robots for future electric and autonomous cars

Volkswagen’s new concept autonomous and electric car, Sedric
Volkswagen self-driving concept car, which it calls Sedric

The Volkswagen Group is researching ways in which robots can be used in the future when cars become more electrified and computerised as a result of increasing demand for clean and autonomous vehicles. 

The German automaker, which owns the Audi, Bentley, Seat, Porsche and Lamborghini brands among others, is working one of the world’s largest industrial robotics and automation providers, Kuka, to research and develop a number of ideas.

The current area of interest for the strategic partnership between Kuka and Volkswagen is the area of service concepts for vehicles of the future, and the two companies have agreed a contract to jointly develop robot-based innovation concepts for vehicles of the future. 

From left: VW CEO Matthias Müller, CEO of Kuka, Till Reuter, and head of R&D at VW Group Ulrich Eichhorn
From left: VW CEO Matthias Müller, CEO of Kuka, Till Reuter, and head of R&D at VW Group Ulrich Eichhorn

The contract was formally signed by the CEO of VW, Matthias Müller, head of research and development at the VW Group Ulrich Eichhorn, and the CEO of Kuka, Till Reuter.

Autonomous automobiles and service robots are two subsidiary aspects of mobility in the future, said the companies in a joint statement. These aspects will be analysed jointly through the strategic partnership.

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.”

One of the aims of the research collaboration is to develop robot-based innovations for all-electric and autonomous automobiles.

Reuter 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.”

The new co-operation 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.

Aside from the technological fundamentals, plans are being laid for the development of other concepts for innovative applications in the new strategic partnership.

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.”

The Volkswagen Group is planning a strategic e-mobility expansion in the course of realigning its drive strategy. By the end of 2018, more than 10 new electrified models will be launched on the market. A further 30 models will follow by 2025.

These will be all-electric battery-powered vehicles. In parallel, Porsche will manage the ongoing expansion of infrastructure for quick-charging stations.

Volkswagen says it is providing a “vision for autonomous driving of the future” with its Sedric concept car (pictured).

Moreover, Audi recently established a business unit or working group called autonomous intelligent driving for self-drive systems, and is carrying out work in the area for the entire Volkswagen Group.

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