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.
"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.
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.