Robot Pumps Gas at Dutch Filling Station

A Dutch robot threatens that most basic of blue-collar occupations — gas-station attendant.

The TankPitstop, as its developers call it, went into service Monday at a Shell station in Emmeloord in the central Netherlands.

Its first customer was Minister of Economic Affairs Maria van der Hoeven, who declared it "truly a spectacular innovation" as the blue mechanical arm unscrewed her car's gas cap and pumped in a tankful.

• Click here to see video of the TankPitstop in action.

"I was on a farm and I saw a robotic arm milking a cow," developer and gas-station operator Nico van Staveren told Reuters. "'If a robot can do that, then why can't it fill a car tank,' I thought."

Van Staveren's Shell-station franchising company enlisted a local engineering firm to develop the mechanical arm, while a neighboring information-technology outfit both built the underlying database and designed the Web site.

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The TankPitstop's external camera determines each car's make and model as it pulls up, and opens the gas tank accordingly. Payment is made via a preregistered debit-card system, though our Dutch was too rusty to determine exactly how drivers would sign up for that.

Still, there's one catch. The whole ensemble costs about $100,000. Even by Dutch standards, that'd be enough to hire four or five full-time human gas-station attendants.

• Click here for the TankPitstop Web site (in Dutch), and here for a Reuters report.