In 2007, Israeli electric car infrastructure startup Better Place toyed with the idea of a robotic arm at its charging stations to plug a cable into the charger on one end and the car on the other, making the process less messy for drivers.

The team’s initial enthusiasm dimmed, however, as the cost for building such a sophisticated system soared and the idea was dropped.

Sixteen years later, another Israeli startup is again attempting to automate the charging process.

Tel Aviv-based BaTTeRi plans to set loose self-driving robots in parking lots – whether the space belongs to a hotel, a corporate fleet’s depot, a mall or an office building – that will approach your car, charge it, then move on to the next vehicle needing juice.

Introducing Thomas

BaTTeRi’s L-shaped robot is dubbed Thomas – an allusion to both electricity pioneer Thomas Edison and the children’s toy icon Thomas the Tank Engine, CEO Tomer Shahaf tells ISRAEL21c. Shahaf cofounded BaTTeRi with Ram Rotbart and Tamar Bezalel Burshtein.

When users enter a Thomas-enabled parking lot, they’ll open an app to tell Thomas how long they’ll be there and how much charge will be required. Most people don’t need a full charge but just enough to get home, allowing Thomas to more quickly move on to the next car.

A single Thomas robot can charge 15 to 18 cars a day; larger lots could deploy multiple units. The robot’s own built-in battery can be charged traditionally or by renewables like solar power.

Thomas is designed to use AI – including sensors and cameras – to navigate the parking lot and find your car based on license-plate recognition.

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