Robots Pump Gas But Don’t Do Windows

Discussion
Feb 11, 2008

By George Anderson

Throughout the U.S. (excepting New Jersey and Oregon) and many other parts of the world, if motorists want their car tanks filled with gas, they need to get out of the car and do it themselves. That may not be necessary in the future if a new gas-pumping robot created in the Netherlands catches on with gas station owners.

Last week, Nico van Staveren, the developer of the robot and a gas station owner himself, introduced the Tankpitstop robot to the public for the first time.

The robot works by sensing when a car pulls up to a pump and then opens the car’s
gas cap and inserts the fuel nozzle in the same fashion as a human. (See
a video of the TankPitstop in operation…
) The robot determines how to fill
the car properly from a database of automobiles and gas cap designs matched
to manufacturer recommended fuel types.

Mr. van Staveren told Reuters how he came up with the idea for the Tankpitstop. “I was on a farm and I saw a robotic arm milking a cow. If a robot can do that then why can’t it fill a car tank, I thought,” he said. “Drivers needn’t get dirty hands or smell of petrol again.”

The Dutch Minister of Economic Affairs, Maria van der Hoeven, was the first person to try out the new system. She called the Tankpitstop “a spectacular new innovation.”

Mr. van Staveren is hoping to have the Tankpitstop operating at several Dutch gas stations by the end of the year. The complete system costs $111,100 (75,000 euros).

Photos courtesy of Tankpitstop

Discussion Questions: Do you think we will see gas stations being manned by robots in the future? Robotics are currently being used in pharmacies in the U.S. Do you see other applications for robots in various retail channels in the years to come?

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17 Comments on "Robots Pump Gas But Don’t Do Windows"


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Ron Martin
Guest
Ron Martin
14 years 3 months ago

Now if we could get these robots to smile and say, “Good Morning” and be capable of giving directions, checking the tires, and washing the windows, I would agree. Oh yes, put two or three on every corner as well….

Call me “old fashioned” if you want, but “service” to me is a personal thing. I DO NOT pump gas. When all I can find is a “self serve” station I offer someone sitting in there $5 bucks to fill it up for me. They always do.

Anne Howe
Guest
14 years 3 months ago

Convenience rules, and I would absolutely try it, especially given the morning temp was a mere one degree on the way in to work today! We have few options here in the Motor City for public transportation, so we are constantly standing at the pump!

Wonder if there could be a robot to fill pot holes as well?

Herb Sorensen, Ph.D.
Guest
14 years 3 months ago

Oregon and New Jersey are the two states that do not permit customers to pump their own gas. The political forces that ensure this economic absurdity are a wonder to behold…but then, aren’t they all? :>)

Mike Osorio
Guest
Mike Osorio
14 years 3 months ago

My initial reaction is no–we won’t see this anytime soon. As already stated, high costs for the robot, thin industry margins and liability issues preclude early adoption. However, if costs can come down I can see it being implemented by a gas company positioning itself as cutting-edge.

As an Oregon resident, I must admit I like having my gas pumped for me. The most unusual part is most of the attendants are bright, pleasant and helpful. It took awhile to get used to (I’m originally from California), but now I like not having to smell like gasoline or get out in the elements. I hope the robots come to Oregon last. I can always visit one in California….

James Tenser
Guest
14 years 3 months ago

Firstly, thank goodness we have colleagues like Warren who zero in on what’s really important…

Now, when it comes to robotic nozzle insertion devices, I have just one fundamental concern: Do we really want to add more automation and capital investment to a fossil fuel transport system that needs to be phased out as quickly as possible?

The energy industry should be investing its obscene profits in developing an alternative vehicular power infrastructure that would first displace, then replace gasoline. Any capital investment in the existing system creates undesirable inertia that would prolong the era of carbon emissions.

So, for my money, we can forget about the or-gas-matron and focus instead on a hydrogen fuelbox.

Mark Burr
Guest
14 years 3 months ago
I sort of look at this one like I might look at self-checkout. It’s about the same cost as a typical 4 lane self-checkout system. The improvement in labor and customer service places that investment in the range of a 12-18 month ROI. For a typical 4 dispenser (8 dispensing positions) station the cost of the latest and greatest dispensers would be approximately $60K or less, depending upon your vendor and style of dispenser. In this scenario, how many robots would you change out from regular dispensers? One, two? In the case of only one, it would add approximately $95K to an already costly investment requiring years elapsing before ROI. There is no upside to labor savings in a self-service environment. There is no improvement to customer service. While ‘neat’, the ROI just isn’t there. No gain on the operator side, equals no gain for this technology. Smelly hands can be helped by a 99 cent hand sanitizer in your car. It shouldn’t require the station to make a $110,000 investment. A pair of utility… Read more »
Bill Bittner
Guest
Bill Bittner
14 years 3 months ago

Seems like a great idea, but I am not sure the risk of fire or explosion caused by interference in the filling area that a robot would not notice is worth it.

Having said that, if they could also move the filler pipe to the center of the rear where it could be accessed from either side it would be fantastic.

Jeff Weitzman
Guest
Jeff Weitzman
14 years 3 months ago

Not sure it’s enough of a convenience to justify higher prices at the pump, which would likely be needed to pay for the increased cost of acquisition and maintenance of the robot arms over self-serve. On the other hand, nobody ever went broke overestimating laziness or the desire of people to remain firmly planted on their butts when faced with the prospect of anything resembling physical activity! Next thing you know they’ll be making robots to help out on the toilet! Oh wait…http://www.washlet.com/

Ben Ball
Guest
14 years 3 months ago

Why not? As long as we are still burning liquid fuels by the time they become commercially feasible, that is. The car wash at most service stations is already robotic. While we’re at it, why not go for a truly robotic “service station” experience again? You know–wash your windshield and everything? Just like the old days!

Rick Moss
Guest
14 years 3 months ago

The law in NJ has been hotly contested for years, with opponents saying it keeps prices higher than necessary and proponents trying to protect jobs. However, since the law was enacted in 1949 (actually, as a safety measure), I would guess there’s no proviso about use of robots. So presumably station owners would be able to legally replace workers, rendering the law completely (assuming it’s not already) pointless.

Warren Thayer
Guest
14 years 3 months ago

All this brought to my filthy little mind the recollection of Woody Allen’s movie ‘Sleeper,’ and the ‘orgasmatron.’ In an effort to liven up this thread a little, I figured I’d Google that word and make sure I was spelling it correctly, and make some witty remarks. To my astonishment, it turns out that a company in Texas has developed a device that is, um, along the same lines as the original orgasmatron. (Oh, go ahead and Google it yourself.) I figure if the orgasmatron can actually exist (almost), we can certainly have robots at gas stations.

Susan Rider
Guest
Susan Rider
14 years 3 months ago

I don’t think it will become a reality unless the fuel companies will subsidize the cost. Gas station margins will not support the return on investment. Also, the liability for scratching, spills, etc. opens up another area for concern. Won’t happen anytime soon!

Mel Kleiman
Guest
14 years 3 months ago

Fun to look at but will there be an ROI? With the slim margins in gasoline, it costs the retailers in all states but New Jersey and Oregon nothing to have the customer fill the tank.

Earlier adopters may try it to see if it might draw more business but if it can not get people into the store while the tank is filling or attract more customers–not only on the cold and wet days–then all it will be is fun to look at and try once, but it won’t become common.

Li McClelland
Guest
Li McClelland
14 years 3 months ago

Robots pumping gas for arthritic Boomers. What’s not to love?

W. Frank Dell II, CMC
Guest
14 years 3 months ago

The two factors delaying Robots have been sensing and computer power. Great strides are being made in both areas. A few years back we saw a computer that could correctly identify produce.

Over the next 5 years, I expect to see many practical applications for Robots. This may be one way to reduce the illegal immigration problem. Why not use them for gasoline? With fume sensors, they likely will be safer then consumers doing the pumping. Link it with the RFID card the driver is using to start the car and you’ll have easy payment. The only issue is do you want to fill up or just buy a set dollar amount, but this could be handled via cell phone.

M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
14 years 3 months ago

Clarification: Nothing above ground at a gas station actually pumps gas. All gas pumps are now buried underground. There are dispersal/delivery units above ground, but no gas pumps. Thus, any above-ground dispersal unit for gasoline that is robotic in nature is not a pump and cars cannot “pull up to a pump.”

More information: My fuel tank cover cannot be opened by a robot. If it tried, it would scratch the paint and cost the gas station owner more than five grand for a new coat of paint. As a younger man, most of my cars cost less than $5,000. Now, it costs more than that to repaint my eleven-year-old car. Weird but true.

If you can’t trust the “robot” to treat your car properly but instead are forced to get out of your car to “manage” the fuel exchange, how is that different than today?

Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 3 months ago

If the Tankpitstop works well, it will be adopted by a few gas stations, who’ll increase their market share quickly. Then a few more gas stations, whose sales were taken by the innovators will buy the robots. Then a lot more gas stations will buy the robots simply to rescue their businesses from double-digit sales declines.

I live in New Jersey, and in spite of the law, I see a lot of folks pumping their own gas. They don’t want to wait or they don’t like the idea of servants. And gas prices in NJ seem very low, compared to many other places. I assume that local/state taxes and transportation costs are bigger factors in determining retail gasoline prices, compared to station labor.

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