Robots at the petrol pump

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The Independent Online
DEREGULATION of the buses is putting operating companies under severe pressure to cut costs. The French have come up with one way of doing this - a refuelling robot called Oscar.

For the past two years, the 80 buses serving the Bayonne area in south- west France have been refuelled each evening by Oscar. All the driver has to do is park the vehicle in a fixed position. The key to the invention is a patented design of fuel cap, which folds back into the tank when it is activated by sensors on the front of the robot.

Each bus has an electronic identification tag under the chassis, which is read by a unit built into the surface of the refuelling bay. This tells the robot the model of the bus, allowing it to adjust to the correct height and position. The fuel delivery equipment is identical to that in conventional filling stations.

The vehicle identification data is also used to track fuel consumption. The driver enters the mileage on a keyboard next to the pump, and this information can be used to plan the bus's maintenance schedule.

Jean-Pierre Veunac, managing director of Stab, which manages the bus service in the Bayonne area, said Oscar had replaced one and a half operators, making an annual saving of FFr250,000 (£31,300). In the past, the depot had a pump attendant on duty from 2pm to midnight. "Now Oscar is available for work 24 hours per day, we have a much more flexible system for refeulling."

There is every reason for Oscar to find application in the UK, according to Brian Fisher, managing director of the Bristol City Bus Company, which operates a fleet of 160 buses. "We haven't yet heard of the French solution, but if there's a way of saving on manpower or improving efficiency, then of course we'd like to know about it."

The French company, Robosoft, is starting to manufacture and sell Oscar worldwide. Each robot costs FFr250,000, and each bus requires FFr3,000 worth of modifications.This makes it viable for any depot with 80 or more buses. One robot can handle 160 vehicles per day.