Seems like there's a robot for every job.
Seems like there's a robot for every job.

An inventor in the Netherlands has merged the spirits of robotics with the only joy of New Jersey. No, I’m not talking about a cyborg Tony Soprano, though that would be cool. Nico Van Staveren developed the world’s first robotic arm that can pump gasoline while you stay in the comfort of your car. The TankPitStop debuted in Emmeloord, Netherlands last year and has been providing petrol to the Dutch people ever since. Check out the video below. While a robotic gas pump is nice, it points to a bigger issue: we’ve already reached a time when robots can take on almost any task.

2008 is actually a pretty late date to get robotic gasoline pumps. The necessary technology had been ready for seven to ten years. Staveren himself got the idea for TankPitStop while watching a friend’s automatic cow milking machine. We’ve mentioned how Willow Garage, MIT, and other robotics hubs are expanding horizons and how that could one day increase the availability of robots. But, truth be told, that day may already have arrived.

Staveren worked with Rotec Engineering, also in the Netherlands, to develop the pumping system. It builds off of three previous devices: a sucker to open the cover, a rotating grip to remove the cap, and the hand that selects and pumps the gas.

Though it costs more than $110,000, TankPitStop is designed to help make you some of that money back quickly. Staveren, who owns the Shell station where the robot debuted, claims that the efficiency of the arm will increase sales by 20% per hour per pump. There’s never any spillage, nor is the wrong gas used, so motorists are saving money as well. Motion sensors automatically shut off the pump if the car moves or if someone starts to interfere with the machine.

To insure that the correct gasoline is used for each car, consumers first register and place a small RFID sticker on their windshield. Payment through a credit card is arranged at the same time, so you never have to leave your car. While the service is not available to everyone, (classic cars present a problem) Staveren says 80% of current models can use the pump. That percentage increases as models are updated through automatic updates via the Internet.

All these technologies: robotic arms, Internet updates, RFIDs, motion sensors, are all old news. They could have been combined at any time in the past five to ten years to make a robotic gas station. It makes me wonder what other menial tasks could easily be roboticized. Certainly cost is a factor for some applications, but the price tag of industrial robots has been on the decline for a while. And as TankPitStop demonstrates, recouping that money isn’t that hard. I’m racking my brains right now, there’s got to be something I could easily do with a robot. Any ideas?

[photo credit: TankPitStop.nl]