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Gas-Pumping Robot in China Answers a Question Nobody Asked

Some inventors are so preoccupied with whether they can, they never stop to think if they should.
A robotic fuel system developed by Danish company Autofuel, similar to the system seen used in China. Autofuel

When it comes to inventions, there are game-changers like the internet and penicillin. Then, there are conveniences, amusements, and life-improvers like crosswalks, Jenga, and pizza delivery. At the bottom of the list is this robotic gas station attendant, which is intended to improve our quality of life in some way, how exactly I’m not quite sure.

This video, which appears to have been filmed in China, shows a specialized robot opening the fuel door on a white Audi. It spins the gas cap with some dexterity, places it aside, and then retrieves the gas pump. A Google search for “gas pump robot” reveals that the technology has been tested in China for a couple of years, and a similar test is underway in Finland, according to a Freethink article from February of this year. This video was my first time seeing it in action, though.

The big question I have is: Why? The technology isn’t simple, requiring a large, dextrous robot with programming to accommodate a variety of vehicle heights and gas cap types. And the payoff? A fill-up that’s about as fast as a human could do it, if they weren’t in a particular hurry. Why would you create a fairly complex robot and saddle it with a task that isn’t a particularly big deal?

I can understand the use case for disabled drivers, but there’s a simpler solution, and it’s called a gas station attendant. You can see three of them milling about in red jackets during the clip, perhaps tending to the machines—or standing by, ready to take over if something goes wrong. If one of these robots ever ends up in New Jersey, it’ll have its arm ripped from its metal socket within a week, guaranteed.

We’ll all be driving EVs within a decade or two, and I’m excited to see charging methods evolve there. Wireless juice, hot-swappable batteries—bring it on. Until then, let me pump my gas and breathe in hydrocarbons in peace, please.

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