I Tried to Become Friends With BP's New Gas Station Bot. He Sucks.
Miles is no friend of mine.
Pumping gas is a boring, lonely experience, but Miles, a sassy new interactive pump created by BP, aims to change that. Miles, who was created by the same type of marketers that ruin every meme, exists to make filling up a car a fun experience. Only a handful of the petroleum-fueled bots are out in the world right now, but one of them stands in Brooklyn at the corner of 4th Avenue and Douglass Street. He’s out there at that street corner blaring music and offering up trivia games and activities to entice millennials into thinking a fossil fuel company is their hip new friend. But Miles isn’t a friend, he’s a semi-sentient commercial who lurks at a gas station trying to shill to a target demographic of possible marks. He’s there for people like me.
So, in the misguided spirit of friendship and capitalism, I drove down to the station on an overcast Tuesday morning to pay him a visit.
Miles’s voice greeted me when I stepped out of the car. It is, to put it mildly, terrible. He sounds like he should be selling some Xtreme toy made out of BPA-filled plastic during a Cartoon Network commercial break. He’s hollow and inauthentically over-eager.
“Let’s set the mood with some tunes,” Miles suggested as I stepped out of the car. He offered me a variety of Pandora stations, including one devoted entirely to EDM. Since my first impression of Miles’s personality led me to believe he probably had a horrible Skrillex remix of a Dave Matthews Band track stored somewhere on his hard drive, I opted for rap.
“Rap is my jaaam,” Miles said with cringeworthy inflection. “Good choice.”
This BP station had 12 gas pumps, but only one of them was my man Miles. He’s the pump closest to the corner of 4th Avenue, a busy, four-lane Brooklyn street that divides the posh Park Slope neighborhood and the posh-but-polluted Gowanus area. It’s not an especially charming block.
Miles introduces himself to the world with a gaudy sign reading “Hi, I’m Miles. I’ll pump, you pay.” This was Miles’s first lie. The bot’s a facsimile of the interpersonal experience full-service pumps used to offer, but he’s just a limited interface. Miles can’t actually pump gas — I needed to get out of the car and do that myself. The interface is really just some speakers and two screens — a larger one on top of the pump and a smaller touch screen about the size of a sheet of legal paper to its left.
Miles’ physical body, for lack of a better term, hovers disjointedly around the actual gas pump. At no point while pumping or paying for gas would you naturally interact with Miles. His friendship is an extra set of buttons and tasks. Because I wanted to get to know Miles better without having to multitask, I decided to do an activity with him before starting the filling-up process. He offered to “snap a photo” of me for an E-card.
“I can turn you into a rap legend,” he said. I tapped the screen to say yes, mostly because I assumed I’d be able to record some sort of voice message along with the card, and I wanted to ask Miles about the Deepwater Horizon spill to see if he could really speak for BP. Sadly, I didn’t get a chance, since all that the E-card involved was posing, photo booth-style, at a gas station.
After getting my picture taken, I was asked to pick a theme for the card. Some of my options — which weren’t explained at all on the screen — included “DIDN’T PASS” and “CAR-MA.” I opted to go for “STAY GASSY.”
Then I needed to give Miles (and by extension, BP, I guess) my phone number so he could text me a link to the E-card and a link for 25 cents off per gallon on my next visit.
“Thanks for your contact info!” Miles screeched. “Don’t call me, I’ll call you [laughs]. No, but really, I’ll reach out soon.”
Miles, you dick. This is exactly what you say when you’re ghosting on someone. This doesn’t seem like the type of behavior that leads to long-term friendships — or even casual business relationships. Still, I needed to fill the car up with gas, so I started chatting with Miles again. He didn’t seem to remember me.
“Hey! Just start pumping!” he said. This time I decided to listen to pop music instead of rap. “Dance party in three! Two! Onneee!” Miles yelled.
Rather than take another picture, I elected to answer some trivia questions. The questions, which were written by folks at The Onion’s AV Club, were about pop music. They were too easy.
“When was pop sensation Taylor Swift born, which is also the name of one of her albums?” Miles asked on the big screen. The possible answers were located on the smaller touch screen to the left of the pump. It’s an awkward setup that forces you to look back and forth while on a timer. I hit 1989. Then Miles asked if I knew who Carly Rae Jepsen was. I’ve rarely been so insulted.
Perhaps this is too harsh. Miles himself is, like, fine. His main problem, aside from acting like the digital version of frosted tips, is that there isn’t much to him. Nothing Miles offers is more interesting than putzing around on an iPhone would be. If I’d done that instead of prodding at his weird Matrix-hued touch screen, I would’ve at least been able to text with real friends instead of dealing with his faux-enthusiasm. At best, Miles is the tiniest of distractions, and at worst, he’s annoying. The middle-aged construction worker who used Miles to fill up a half dozen tanks of gasoline ahead of me certainly didn’t bother to put up with any of the bot’s chipper bullshit.
However, just because Miles himself is largely inoffensive doesn’t mean that the idea behind him isn’t. The poor bot doesn’t deserve all this scorn, but the marketers who created him to appeal to #youths certainly do. BP is assuming that the reason I’m not always filling up at one of their gas stations is because I’m not being catered to and entertained at every minute. The real reason, of course, is that I live in New York City and don’t own a car — I had to borrow my editor’s to pay Miles a visit. A fossil fuel corporation’s flaccid attempts to be SnapChat can’t change how little sense it makes for me to own a car of my own. Even for people who do have cars, though, Miles offers nothing but weak-ass condescension. It’s crude marketing, naked save for a horrible voice actor.
I wouldn’t go out of my way to hang out with Miles again the next time I need to pump gas, whenever that might be. As a millennial, I don’t value his paper-thin friendship enough to buy a car. After my dispiriting visit, I needed to circle my editor’s block for 45 minutes looking for a parking space to deposit his car. Miles wasn’t worth the trip.