It doesn't do windows or check the oil, but a robot introduced Wednesday at a Sacramento-area Shell service station pumps gas and takes credit card data while drivers stay in their cars.
Like the nearly extinct human gas station attendant, the "customer interface center" at Shell's Smart Pump moves up to the driver's window, asks what grade of gas to pump, takes credit card information and gives a receipt.
Drivers who have trouble remembering which side of the car their gas cap is on might benefit from the robotic pumping device, which reads information about the car from a plastic transmitter placed on the driver's windshield.
The pumping mechanism then rolls above the car like a car wash device and lowers an "arm" to the exact location of the car's gas cap.
A suction device opens the gas cap door. The gas nozzle, covered with an airtight sleeve, inserts itself into a gas cap specially designed for the system.
Gas is pumped at up to four times the speed of regular pumps. The entire process--from the time a green light signals the driver to pull up to the credit card station until a second green light signals that the transaction is complete--takes about two minutes.
Art Driscoll, manager of product development for Shell Oil Products Co. in Houston, said the company has done extensive consumer research and found that "many motorists consider purchasing gas to be a hassle."
Customers aren't able to use the robot yet. Shell is testing it while awaiting OK by regulators, including state and local fire marshals.
Shell must also decide how much to charge for the service. To use the robotic pump, customers must have on their windshields small plastic devices that transmit information about the vehicle to the pumping system.
Shell's Smart Pump is the latest step in the oil industry's move to automate gas sales.
In May, Mobil Corp. plans to introduce an electronic gizmo that can be clipped to a key chain and uses radio signals to activate the gas pump and charge the purchase.
Shell will introduce a similar system in two test markets this summer.