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Robotics Hardware

Dutch Unveil Robot Gas Station Attendant 287

Posted by kdawson
from the what-could-possibly-go-wrong dept.
Lucas123 writes "According to a Reuters' story, Dutch inventors today took the wraps off a $110,000 car-fueling robot they say is the first of its kind. (It was inspired by a cow milking robot.) After registering the car as it pulls up to the pump, the machine matches your fuel cap design with those in a database and your car's fuel type, and then a robotic arm fitted with multiple sensors extends from a regular gas pump, 'opens the car's flap, unscrews the cap, picks up the fuel nozzle and directs it towards the tank opening, much as a human arm would, and as efficiently.' Wait till Hollywood gets hold of this scenario."
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Dutch Unveil Robot Gas Station Attendant

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  • Novelty Act (Score:4, Insightful)

    by milsoRgen (1016505) on Tuesday February 05, 2008 @06:04PM (#22313312) Homepage
    Now this is were automation really is handy dandy stuff. But actual merits aside, if it were to ever be used in the US it would be a novelty. People would bitch and complain...

    I grew up in Oregon. A state that requires an attendent to pump your gas. I worked at a texaco one summer. There were 3 distinct positions on the issue:

    1. Out of staters: Oh my god wow, it's really illegal for me to pump my own gas? Why thank you keep the change.
    2. The in towners: Hurry the fuck up kid and please get my side windows.
    3. The drive up politicians: Don't you see how this is hurting the very business you work for by requring man power for a job the costumer could do themselves. (My reply: dude I'm just here for the beer money)

    So yeah I see the same thing to varying degrees happening at the pump (if this were to ever become a substantial choice for gas station owners here in the states)... Which would just be a rehash of the old auto workers complaints I can remember from as far back as grade school. Our science text books had these odd placed "Look to the future" sections. One of which was about robotics, and how there was a concern it would replace jobs with out creating... yadda yadda yadda Seemed like a pro union slant to me even then. (tho for the record I am pro union)

    All that aside. I think it would be cool to have a robot doing this. I've worked in gas stations outside of Oregon here and there. Where people could do their own fueling, the amount of gas people slopped all over themselves, their car or the ground was substantial... and they always wanted a refund!
  • by CodeBuster (516420) on Tuesday February 05, 2008 @06:07PM (#22313364)
    Suppose that this robot works perfectly every time without hassling the customers, damaging their vehicles, wasting their time, or generally causing other problems which cost the gas station owner money (a big assumption). From the standpoint of the gas station owner why invest in this robot when your customers already pump their own gas at no additional cost to you? I can think of only three (3) possibilities. First, if your competitors install this robot AND enough of your customers refuse to gas up at your station because you DO NOT have the robot then it might make sense provided that the margin (thin already for independent station owners) is able to support the cost which brings up the next point. Second, your customers are willing to pay more for their gas for the novelty OR the convenience of having a robot pump it for them (perhaps, but certainly a niche. Most people are very price sensitive when it comes to buying gas, driving miles out of their way to save a couple of pennies in some cases). Third, the local laws require a human attendant anyway (Oregon has this type of law) where the present value of the gas station attendant's wages in perpetuity are more than the costs of purchasing and maintaining the robot (provided that the initial assumption about damage to property and persons remains true). In any case it is highly likely that this robot will not be widely used or fill only niche markets because it is a cost center for the gas station owner and not likely to be or become a profit center. At best, it might become a requirement of doing business, but I cannot see many gas station owners installing and using the robot unless they are forced to by either the marketplace or the government.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 05, 2008 @06:07PM (#22313374)
    the gas station blew up after the robot sparked a fat, Amsterdam blunt while pumping fuel. *ducks*

    You don't have to duck when the joke is that incredibly stupid. People will just ignore it.
  • by Osurak (1013927) on Tuesday February 05, 2008 @06:09PM (#22313398)
    Marshall Brain already thought of that. Check out his short story, Manna [marshallbrain.com]
  • by vertinox (846076) on Tuesday February 05, 2008 @06:16PM (#22313522)
    What will gas station attendants do when this replaces them? Go work at a fast food place? great, but in 5 years when they 'iBurgerFlipper' replaces them then what?

    I dunno... I suppose they will do the same thing as the textile loomers did after the industrial revolution in the 1800s.

    IMO if your job can be replaced by a machine, it probaly was boring.
  • by Supergibbs (786716) on Tuesday February 05, 2008 @06:17PM (#22313526) Homepage
    Mod parent up *funny* :-)
  • by Proto23 (931154) on Tuesday February 05, 2008 @06:28PM (#22313740)
    Not to spoil your party, but the robot is for people with disabilities who drive their car but have a hard time getting out alone. Like when you need to pump your own gas.
  • by Lumpy (12016) on Tuesday February 05, 2008 @06:50PM (#22314118) Homepage
    $100 for a special cap? someone was overcharging hard.

    you can buy for $12.99 a gas cap that has a flap that allows you to easily fuel the car through the cap.

    uses a standard pump nozzle size, replace the black flap with a reflective one and It's a 2nd year robotics student project to reproduce everything they did. Opening and closing the door is as simple by attaching a gripper stud or refelctive tape.

    Problem is it's far cheaper to let the people use the pump themselves. Why put in a multi thousand dollar robot to do something that people are doing for free. At full service stations the "attendant" is paid minimum wage as it's not a skilled job. I can pay the wages of a gas pump attendant for 10 years for the price of one gas pumping robot.

  • Re:Oregon (Score:3, Insightful)

    by uniquename72 (1169497) on Tuesday February 05, 2008 @07:00PM (#22314282)
    I ride a motorcycle. Does this mean that if I get gas in NJ or Oregon, I have a big, sweaty guy reaching in between my legs to fill me?

    If so, I'm there!
  • by sam_paris (919837) on Tuesday February 05, 2008 @07:38PM (#22314742)
    Well, it's become a new meme to tag anything that remotely sounds dangerous with that particular tag... at first it was funny.. it's a little tiresome now.
  • Re:Oregon (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Gutboy (587531) on Tuesday February 05, 2008 @07:42PM (#22314784)
    I still live in Oregon, and have (off and on) for 17+ years. A long time ago, there was a ballot measure to allow anyone to pump their own gas, with the idea that it would make for cheaper gas. It was defeated by people running advertisements that said, basically, 'do you want to have gas on your hands before you go eat food?' I guess being 'back to nature' means people here haven't learned how to bathe (and if you head downtown, you'll see lots of examples).
  • by SmallFurryCreature (593017) on Wednesday February 06, 2008 @06:57AM (#22319028) Journal

    Like so many you obviously never employed anyone. This is NOT just a case of paying minimum wage for ONE person.

    The robot for the stated amount of money will work 24/7 365 days a year. Never sick, never late, never rude. He makes no demands, has no ambitions to better himself, doesn't demand promotions, doesn't get a higher wage as he gets older. Remmeber this is a DUTCH story, we actually give minimum wage workers a minimum wage they can live on.

    The robot doesn't demand overtime, has no holidays.

    The robot doesn't need a toilet, a break room, no breaks.

    To replace the robot you would need not ONE person but a minimum of THREE people at least to have the station manned 24/7 and that still leaves a lot of times during breaks when there is no service.

    There are even more complex things to consider, a lot of gas stations are on highways, minimum driving age in europe is 18. This means the cheapest kind of employee can't reach the place and any 18 year old who can afford a car in holland is going to want enough money to pay for it.

    I also seriously wonder about what you call minimum wage in your country. The robot costs 111.000 dollars (75.000) euro. Now I am not that familiar with minimum wage for 16 years old in my country, but it still costs a bit more for the employer in salary and taxesthen 7.500 euro. Offcourse that is only during the day. Nights shifts are not allowed for 16yr olds. Want somebody a bit more mature? Up goes minimum wage, provided offcourse you can get someone for that salary.

    Yet another thing you forget, recruitement costs, or do you think that same person is going to work 10 years for the same wage? Not in holland mate, just based on the law alone the wage more then doubles just because you get older.

    Offcourse that means you got to replace that person constantly, every 6 months or so (longer contract and in holland people can't be fired just because they have gotten older and get a higher minimum wage), that is expensive, and how many motivated people who are any good will want to work for a company that knows is threating them like throw away employees? Hint, supermarkets do this (Albert Heijn) and they are slowly learning that it has giventhem such a bad rep that they can't find anyone motivated anymore. They got plenty of shelf-fillers who know they are going to be fired once their balls drop, but it means there is nobody who qualifies to stay with the company and fill the higher positions. You can use temps, but the agency is going to want payment on top of the salary.

    No, there is a reason robots are used so often. They work, are cheap and you can get rid of messy employees who demand things.

    Before the solution for gas stations was to introduce self-serve. Someday in the future robots may bring back the service we once had.

    Not that I think it is going to happen anytime soon, this story has a habit of repeating itself.

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