Tech Promises to Bring the Future to Buying Fuel

By 
Samantha Oller, Senior Editor/Fuels, CSP

CHICAGO -- In a world in which fuel choices and payment options are fixed, the next generation of fuel dispensers promises to save humans from the tyranny of the one-size-fits-all transaction. They’re pretty fun to use, too.

At the 2017 NACS Show in Chicago, manufacturers showed what some are calling the “fuel dispenser of the future.” From a distance, they look like oversized iPads attached to a fuel pump, glowing brightly against an otherwise sedate piece of hardware. Closer up, one notices a similar customizable interface along with a slew of technologies not yet on the forecourt—think biometric recognition and connected-car functionality.

These prototypes are still very much in the concept phase, but their potential to transform the fueling experience is real.

 “Buying gasoline today is imagined by some to be a distressed purchase,” says Scott Negley, director of global products, dispensers and hardware for Dover Fueling Solutions, Austin, Texas. “From a user experience, it’s not exactly smooth, intuitive or makes you want to come back.”

Here’s where technology can help smooth out many of the rough edges of filling up.

“The goal is integrating the technologies together into an absolutely seamless, enjoyable experience that we believe will change the whole dynamic when it comes to retailing on the petroleum forecourt,” says Negley. Both Dover Fueling Solutions and Gilbarco Veeder-Root featured these technologies during the NACS Show. Here's a look at what's coming ...

Touchscreen capability

Concept pumps at Dover and Gilbarco’s booths had dramatic, 27-inch touchscreen interfaces. (Dover's is pictured above.)

“That’s a very comfortable experience everyone is used to doing by now, whether it’s on your mobile, tablet or other personal-type devices,” says Negley. The touchscreens are designed to resist the type of abuse common on the forecourt while still offering an attractive, intuitive way to interact with the pump.

Connected-car functionality

The connected car—essentially, a vehicle with an internet connection—is a focus of automakers such as General Motors and Volkswagen as they seek to maximize the driving experience [CSP—Feb. ’18]. For dispenser manufacturers, it provides an opportunity to expand the fueling transaction.

In Gilbarco’s NACS Show booth (pictured), a connected-car demo showed how a driver could pay for fuel from a Gilbarco pump with their Visa from the comfort of their Honda. After the customer pulls into the gas station, a beacon in the pump activates an app on the vehicle console. Put the car into park, and the beacon communicates with it to determine how much fuel it needs. The app offers a choice of fuel amounts—partial or full tank—and allows the customer to select their payment method. After the customer fills up, the app pops back up on the console with an e-receipt that can be emailed to the customer.

“It unlocks creativity,” says Brian Kuebert, director of product and market expansion for the global product management team for Gilbarco, Greensboro, N.C. “It’s about harnessing that creativity to make the most frictionless user experience you can, and really find a way to deeply engage with customers and connect them to your store.”

Fueling progress

Through connected-car functionality, the customer could also receive more details and options. Based on the customer’s fuel choices, the dispenser can estimate the final cost for filling up and provide a live filling status, including how much time is left before the tank is filled.

The dispensers could also provide a greater range of fuel options. Instead of the three grade buttons, the customer could choose from a range of gasoline and diesel blends—all dictated by the fuel dispenser to prevent misfueling. So a diesel-powered Ford F150 truck would be offered only diesel and biodiesel as fuel options.

 

Payment options

The concept pumps featured near-field communication (NFC) contactless payment and traditional credit-card processing. A retailer could even segment its forecourt by payment preference, similar to retail self-checkout lanes.

“One or two lanes—I’ll call it my ‘millennial lane’—I’ll only have NFC, no card reader, and only take ApplePay, with no receipts,” Negley says. “In other lanes, you may offer other, more conventional payment methods.”

Customer recognition

With biometrics or a similar ID technology, the fuel dispenser could recognize the consumer and tailor the fueling experience to them. The consumer would create their own user profile, including everything from their photo to fuel and payment preferences and loyalty memberships. This information would be stored in a cloud-based application, managed by the retailer with the dispenser manufacturer controlling the customer portal. In addition, any of the same make of dispenser could recognize the customer, pulling up their profile regardless of the retail location.

So how far away is this new fueling future? Gilbarco’s dispenser remains conceptual, and executives declined to provide a timeline for future developments. Dover Fueling’s concept is about five years or more from realization, according to Negley. The company hopes to begin introducing some of the technologies in the second half of 2019, as the wave of dispenser upgrades begins to build in advance of the 2020 EMV compliance deadline. Connected-car functionality is one technology likely to appear first.

Later-phase technologies would include facial recognition, or the ability to read a customer’s gestures such as thumbs-up for “yes.” Regardless of the pace, Dover hopes to develop the technology in a way that it can be retrofitted to the current generation of Wayne Ovation dispensers.