How Robotic Gas Pumps Work

Do we really need robots to do something so simple?
With a robot refilling the tank, you no longer have to get out of your car in foul weather.
With a robot refilling the tank, you no longer have to get out of your car in foul weather.
(Courtesy of Fuelmatics)

"Need" is such a touchy word. Do we "need" a new iPhone? Do we "need" an adorable sweater for the dog? Do we "need" a new hybrid crossover vehicle to replace our perfectly serviceable older model all-wheel drive vehicle? No, we do not need these things. But an iPhone, a dog in a sweater and a new hybrid crossover would make our lives much more enjoyable, and so it is with robot refueling.

First comes the convenience for the consumer, which is really all you probably care about anyway. With a robot refilling the tank, you don't have to get out of your car in a Polar Vortex. In fact, if you've got an app to pay for your purchase, you don't even have to roll down the window. It's also faster to let the robot do it; it can start the process while it waits for your card to be verified. Corfitsen said Fuelmatics machines start pumping gas into the tank 12 seconds after the credit card is verified. It can even be cleaner; the robots are less likely to be distracted by that guy/girl/dog in an adorable sweater in the car across the way and spill gasoline all over the fender panel. Not to mention the big benefit: It would be way easier for physically disabled drivers to refuel.

You may be wondering if this machine will work with your car. It will. Fuelmatics had to find technology and mechanical components that would work with all car models, no matter their shape, size, or gas cap height. The cameras guiding the computer solved a lot of those problems, but "it required hundreds of well-judged compromises to find a system that would work with all cars," Corfitsen said.

There are also conveniences for the gas station operator. There can be three nozzles in one machine, one for gasoline, one for diesel and one for an alternative fuel like natural gas. All the consumer has to do is pick the right one, and each nozzle would be shaped a little differently to minimize mistakes. And if you're building a new gas station, you don't need to build expensive covered islands, since no one is getting out of the car to stand in the rain and pump gas. The robots don't care. It also cuts fueling time, so lines will be shorter because more cars can be serviced more quickly. Fuelmatics intends its robots to be a marketing tool. Corfitsen added, "The intention is that the early user of this will gain more customers by providing a nice refueling experience." And if you're a gas station owner, you know what more customers means. Cha-ching!