Hermann Hänle
7. January 2019 0

Gas station with a flux capacitor

“A friend, a good friend” – sang Willy Fritsch, Oskar Karlweis and Heinz Rühmann in 1930. They had sold their car and bought a gas station instead. Could that be a sign for future mobility too?
From today’s perspective, the cars that drove to the gas station back then seem antiquated. But one thing that hasn’t changed with the times is their thirst for fresh gasoline/diesel. The gas station attendant who greets the incoming car with a smile, cleans the windscreen, checks the oil …. okay, lets forget the last sentence. It seems we haven’t missed the major upheaval to the fueling process over the last 90 years.

The digital gas station
But let’s continue our journey in time for 10 or 20 years into the future, when “future mobility” becomes the present. Demand for hydrocarbons has fallen (simply because there aren’t that many left). An self-driving electric car with artificial intelligence drives up to the gas station. What changes will the new cars trigger and the way in which we use mobility mean for the immobile elements of the ecosystem?
Aral and the German Aerospace Center (DLR) have outlined such a future. And looking at the number of times this study has been published, this vision seems to have hit a nerve. I must admit that I too like to delve into this gas station utopia.

Prognosis 1: Flexible individual transport
Mobility on demand seems to be the motto of this Vision 2040. In this scenario, gas stations turn into logistical hubs for individual mobility. Batteries for scooters can be exchanged or a self-driving car is returned or collected from a pool. The fleet of the mobility providers are cleaned and serviced. And it doesn’t have to be only ground-based vehicles: air taxis extend the options for individual transport.

Prognosis 2: Electric replaces the combustion engine
The study forecasts that there will still be relatively few electric cars (1.3 million) in 2040, instead hybrids will be the dominate factor on the roads. With the corresponding consequences for gas or charging stations, which will be operated by charging/refueling robots. Long live process efficiency.

Prognosis 3: Services on top
The add-on services are already visible today. Whether someone comes to exchange batteries or change to another mode of transport, they can pick up a quick cappuccino, collect a parcel, or make some purchases.

Gas stations as logistical hot-spots
In a world where traditional ecosystems and industry boundaries are dissolving as a result of digitalization, the decentralized positioning of gas station chains is becoming one of their key strengths. As a hub for logistics, they turn into small malls where consumers, travelers and commuters can get various things done.
2040 is still a long way away. So it’s allowed to dream a little. Nonetheless, it seems to me that the vision of the future gas station isn’t entirely based on thin air. The paths of development that we’re seeing today are being consistently further developed. Self-driving and electric cars in as-you-use concepts will not only change mobility but also our cities and our society. Why shouldn’t gas stations – at least in cities – not become hot-spots?

The autonomous gas station – more dystopia than utopia
One last thing: if the processes at these logistical hot-spots were to become more efficient, it might be feasible to assume an autonomous gas station. Fully automated – without humans. Interestingly enough, for most people using gas stations today, this still seems like a dystopia reminiscent of end time scenarios. Gas stations at night without other people … I’m sure ‘The Hitcher, the Highway Killer’ is more likely to come to mind than ‘The Three from the Filling Station’. So, on a final note, it might be better if you watched this.

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