Fueling up your car is about to get more fun, or painful, depending on your interest in chatting with an artificially intelligent, slightly sassy talking gas pump.
“Miles,” an interactive pump with a high-octane personality and a touch screen, is being tested at two Chicago-area BP stations and two in the New York City borough of Brooklyn, with an eye toward a broader rollout. The pumps use artificial intelligence to engage customers with Pandora music stations, trivia, photos for social sharing and witty banter.
“This is about making the gas pumping experience a little bit more enjoyable,” said Doug Dryan, BP’s consumer advertising manager. “It’s not always the top of the list for everybody, coming to fill up your car. But maybe Miles puts a smile on a few persons’ faces.”
Focused on millennial customers reared on multitasking, multiscreens and interactive entertainment, Miles was installed at 750 N. Wells St. in Chicago’s River North neighborhood, and 901 N. Washington St. in Naperville, this month. The Brooklyn stations went live Thursday for the three-month trial run.
When a car pulls up to the pump, a motion detector wakes up Miles to greet customers with blaring music and a choice of Pandora radio formats.
“I’m going to play some of your favorite tracks while you fill up,” Miles said during a recent visit to the River North station. “I’d be dancing if I could, but, well, I’m a pump.”
Miles provides a few options to pass the time while filling the tank, including music trivia games, video e-cards and “augmented reality” photos for social sharing. If the lure of interacting with Miles isn’t enough, a post-transaction text will offer a 25-cent per gallon discount for a return trip to any BP station.
For now, no ads are being fed to the consumer, beyond the ability to link to the Pandora online station and the BP gas discount.
Consumers can’t turn off the music but can avoid interaction with Miles by keeping their fingers off the touch screen. “You can walk up there and fuel and completely ignore Miles if you wanted to,” Dryan said.
Chicago is BP’s North American retail and refinery headquarters, with offices downtown and in Naperville. The BP refinery in Whiting, Ind., is the largest gasoline supplier to the Midwest.
BP has a network of about 7,000 stations nationwide, including 400 in the Chicago area, none of which are corporate-owned. The River North location was selected for its high traffic and millennial-heavy demographics, while the Naperville station is near BP’s suburban campus, Dryan said.
Adding entertainment to the fueling experience has been gaining traction for several years. Founded in 2006, Gas Station TV pumps short video segments from ESPN, CNN and Accuweather interspersed with ads to more than 5,000 stations across the U.S., reaching a captive audience of 70 million motorists per month.
“People like to be entertained during their five minutes of downtime,” said David Leider, CEO of Detroit-based Gas Station TV. “They’re tied to that screen with an 8-foot rubber hose.”
Gas Station TV is at more than 325 stations in the Chicago area, with plans to double the network here next year, Leider said.
BP has not set a rollout for Miles beyond the three-month test. One concern may be that Miles proves to be a little too engaging, slowing down fill-up times as customers take selfies, play trivia and listen to music.
“It’s absolutely a concern for us,” Dryan said. “There’s nothing to say that somebody can’t sit here all day long to do that. Those are the types of things that we’ll learn and correct, if we do decide to move it across more sites.”