For myself, and other residents of New Jersey, this isn’t really a big deal. I briefly flirted with the power of filling up my own tank (I actually thought it was kind of fun!) during my college years in upstate New York. However, New Yorkers are quick to remind us folks across the border of the luxury that is a full-service gas station. Well, here’s some good news for them and residents of the other 48 states that allow self-service stations: Robotic gas pumps may soon be a reality.
A company called Husky Corporation is currently testing their prototype in St. Louis and notes that the machine won’t be available for at least nine more months. Payment works like an ATM — you plug in the desired amount and fuel-type on a touchscreen. It’s the same information you’d enter if you were pumping it yourself or instructing someone else to fill up the tank. Once these machines become widespread, there will probably “be an app for that,” making the whole process even easier.
After indicating how much gas you want, infrared lights and cameras locate the fuel door and an arm with a suction cup pops it open. The machine inserts a robotic nozzle that dispenses the desired amount of fuel. Once you have your gas, the nozzle returns to the machine and the suction cup arm shuts the fuel door. There’s also an adaptor for cars that still have a twist-on cap over their tanks, so everyone can experience this convenience.
Of course, like with any new advancement, robotic gas pumps have some negative implications. I’m not talking about a dystopian future complete with sentient robot overlords like most discussions tend to warn of. There are plausible negative consequences of robotic developments that will make people hesitant to get onboard.
First off, there’s the potential to make certain jobs obsolete. States like Oregon and New Jersey don’t have any self-service stations and the rest of the states have some full-service ones too. Needless to say, this consequence would be a “check” in the pro column for a gas station — you don’t have to pay a robot. It wouldn’t have desirable effects on the economy and job-market, though.
For me, the main problem with this would be the reduction of human contact. I’m the kind of person that prefers face-to-face interaction. It’s more personal and allows for the use of (successful) sarcasm and body language. I can’t make small-talk with a robot and judge if it likes me or not. And have you ever heard a robot tell a good joke? Me neither.
So will gas stations remain one of the last bastions of robot-free living or will we soon have to tell R2-D2 to “fill her up?”