Lowe's is experimenting with robotic helpers that can recognize hardware products, memorize and navigate the aisles of a store, and interact with customers in multiple languages. The robot was developed by Lowe’s Innovation Labs and will be deployed this holiday season at an Orchard Supply Hardware (OSH) store in San Jose, CA.
The OSHbot’s primary goal is to improve in-store navigation; a customer can ask for a product by name or show the robot a sample and it will take the customer to where that item is in the store. If it is unable to help it will initiate a video conference on its touchscreen between the customer and a human sales associate elsewhere in the store. The OSHbot’s greatest strength is that it “knows” exactly what is in stock because it’s tied in to the store’s inventory system.
OSH is a west coast hardware chain that was acquired by Lowe’s in 2013. The San Jose store is a logical place to test robots; OSH stores are about 1/3 the size of a standard Lowe’s and San Jose is in Silicon Valley, where the average shopper is likely to be familiar with and receptive to tech.
It’s unclear if or when Lowe’s will roll this out on a larger scale. According to a story in Ad Age, “The retailer plans to start testing before the holidays at a Lowe's-owned Orchard Supply Hardware store in San Jose. There are no additional roll out plans as of now. The company wants to test the robots in the real world to see how they interact with people before expanding to other stores.”
Lowe’s says the robots are not intended to replace human sales associates; they're intended to free them up for the things people do best. If the OSHbot experiment succeeds, it seems likely the technology will be adopted by Lowe’s and other retailers, the same way that bar code scanners and self-checkout already have.