In the seaside community of Nags Head, on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, a new concept in the dispensing of gasoline is being tested on tourists as well as the locals.
Just off Virginia Dare Trail stands the community's only 24-hour, fully automated filling station. Called 'Hi-Tek', it is unique in that it seems to have a clear idea of how to make money for its inventor.
The new concept gas pumps are basically a blending of the old fashion self-service dispenser and an ATM. The brainchild of Petrol Solutions LLC, it is hoped that they can tap the lucrative automated cash machine market through those who prefer to use plastic to fill their vehicles.
Lloyd 'DragonSpayer' Grant is a computer gaming geek but also the CEO of Petrol Solutions, and he offered this regarding his most recent enterprise, "We wanted to catch people when and where they were the most vulnerable, and the gas pump was the perfect ambush site. After zipping their cards to activate the pump, they get a friendly voice offering other services while they wait to fill up."
The other services Grant speaks of does include cash withdrawal, balance inquiries and funds transfer. But he seemed to balk when we pressed for further details.
So, ready with credit card in hand and an empty tank, we decided to go to the Hi-Tek station ourselves to check out the newfangled machines.
Upon pulling up next to your pump of choice, a friendly female voice asks, "Will that be unleaded, mid-grade or super?"
You can respond in kind, but the voice recognition system still leaves a bit to be desired. When we replied with a very clearly enunciated, "Unleaded", the automated system went on to spit out a whole ream of scratch-off lottery tickets, and a receipt for the $30 they cost us.
On our second attempt at a gas purchase, the mechanism hit us with a $5 fee for something called 'pump pandering' and admonished us to use courtesy when addressing the fuel dispenser to avoid any future charges.
On the next island over, a young woman was in a full-blown argument with her Hi-Tek gas pump. "This g**damned machine just charged me $50 for not laughing when it told me a dirty joke!"
After about 15 minutes of haggling, we finally managed to get a few gallons of gas into our vehicle, but not before it had soaked us for nearly $70 in other products and fees.
As we left Nags Head, we felt that the jury was still out on the usefulness of this new technology. But on the upside, we did manage to win two Free Tickets and $6 in cash on the lottery.