- Tesla owner Pat Larson has invented his own automatic charger.
- A Raspberry Pi computer serves as the brains of the operation.
- The charger uses a camera and a smart light bulb to position its long arm that connects to the car’s charging port.
Earlier this month, YouTuber Pat Larson flaunted his “Tesla Automatic Charger” in a new video. The robotic charger can automatically connect to the car’s charging port with an arm-like apparatus that uses a camera, a Raspberry Pi computer, and a bit of machine learning.
It’s the kind of charging technology that Tesla CEO Elon Musk has teased before, but hasn’t yet delivered. So let’s take a look at Larson’s charging setup to see what’s going on under the hood.
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The Raspberry Pi is “the brains of everything,” Larson says in the YouTube video. To start, the system moves back and forth on linear bearings, aligning roughly with the charging port area of the car. A linear actuator (basically, a joint) pivots the charging arm mechanism away from the wall and toward the parked Tesla.
An automated servo motor “rotates the charging handle out when it’s needed,” Larson explains. Then, an ultrasonic distance sensor gives feedback to the computer so that the charging arm doesn’t strike the car.
Finally, a tiny camera snaps pictures and feeds them back to the computer system to help line up the charging arm mechanism. The Raspberry Pi is equipped with a machine learning framework called TensorFlow, which helps the system understand where to move based on the photographic evidence. There’s also a light to illuminate the right spot, just in case it’s dark inside the garage.
In the video, Larson presses a button to boot up the system, then watches as the “fairly complex TensorFlow model” kicks into gear slowly. “It’s not a fast process,” he says. The arm navigates away from the wall, while the bright light centers on the spot where the arm should go. Then, the software opens the charging port using the Tesla API.
Next, the actuator swings out the large portion of the arm with the charger tip. Finally, the pivoting charger head fully aligns itself flush with the charger port. The charger head spots the hole by identifying the bright Tesla “T” that always shows when the charging port is open. The charger lines itself up perfectly and pushes into the slot, activating the charging port.
Larson explains that all of the software runs over the internet, which technically means the system could go out if there were an internet outage—a “weak point in the system,” he admits. But of course, in that scenario, he can just plug the charger in himself.
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Automatic chargers have long been a Tesla talking point. In the past, Musk has even talked about the idea of an official Tesla-branded automated charger. But that was in 2015, with no news since. Musk did, however, confirm last year that the “metal gear snake” automatic charger is still on Tesla’s development road map.
For now, plan to plug in your charger yourself.
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