Autonomous Tool Trucks?

Autonomous Tool Trucks?

Experiencing self-checkout in an auto parts store can be an interesting experience.

Over this past weekend I experienced a first, at least for me, in the automotive industry. I always need auto parts and through the course of any week, I make the rounds to all the local auto parts stores in my area since they all tend to stock different things and different brands. As I’m sure you can relate. As technicians, we know what parts we need and what brands we like; in other words, when we go to the parts store, we know exactly what we’re looking for.

If you’re like me, a car nerd if there ever was one, you probably know the part number by memory and you could walk blindfolded down any of the aisles and call out exactly what you’re walking past.

The worst part can be waiting. You must wait for the next available counterperson. In some cases, you expect to wait as they look up parts and run into the back to get them, but more than half the time, you walk in, grab what you need, and you’re ready to go.

So, what is it I experienced? The first self-checkout (that I’ve ever seen) in an auto parts store. I was in seventh heaven! This is the perfect place for a self-checkout! No more waiting in lines, painfully listening to a backyard mechanic imparting their skewed expertise on an unsuspecting counterperson or listening to someone who wants to buy another gas cap because their check engine light is on and that’s what “fixed it” the last time. I’ll be in and out in no time.

Then I realized it’s not really fair for me to be elated by this new invisible employee of the auto parts store. I’ve been criticizing these for years. Since the grocery stores started employing these systems, the number of actual people at the stores has slowly diminished. The more self-checkouts, the fewer people.

With less need for employees, there’s fewer jobs in the community. And what if someone has a question, or you’re buying something with an age restriction? The little red light comes on and you have to wait for the one employee whose job it is to monitor 10 self-checkouts. And then there’s the human aspect. I think face-to-face communication is vitally important, and the more computers, cell phones and texting we do, the more we lose the ability to successfully communicate with our fellow human beings.

What’s next, automated service advisors and no human connection for customers at shops? What about autonomous tool trucks? They quietly sneak up (electric, of course) to your shop and transmit your account information to the laptop on your toolbox. You do all your shopping from there, and if you buy a tool, it’s dispensed through an opening in the side of the truck.

Now I’m getting carried away, but what do you think? This might not be too far off. Replacing humans with electronics is frightening in many ways. I’m sure I’ll love the self-checkout at the auto parts store, but maybe I’ll just let it be. I don’t want to lose that human connection, and I have to admit, when I stand there and listen to all the back yard “experts,” I at least get a laugh out of it. And perhaps more than anything, I never want to lose the defining symbol of our industry: the tool truck. TS

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