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At China’s new smart gas stations, no cash, cards, or smartphone apps will be required

February 7, 2018

The future of refueling goes likes this: drive in, tap your car’s infotainment screen, and drive right off.

The news: Banma, a joint venture between Alibaba and Chinese automaker SAIC that makes internet-connected cars, is opening a smart gas station this year in Beijing.

How it works: When a Banma car enters the gas station, geo-fencing systems detect where it is and trigger an app on the car’s touch screen. That lets drivers select fuel, pay via Alipay, and order things from the convenience store. Humans fuel the car and bring the goods. Then the driver just … goes.

Why it matters: Like all big Chinese tech companies, Alibaba has huge AI ambitions. Rolling out real-world applications like this will help it gather troves of data about everyday life to fuel the progress of its machine learning.

But: Don’t get too comfy with the idea. The days of gas stations are numbered, after all.

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Illustration by Rose Wong

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