Lowes deploying robotic customer service to help shoppers


Lowe's will be introducing and testing a fleet of robots at one of its stores for the holiday season.

Called OSHbot, the robots are able to help customers find items around the store. They can also share real-time information about promotions and inventory, as well as speak multiple languages.

"Using science fiction prototyping, we explored solutions to improve customer experiences by helping customers quickly find the products and information they came in looking for," said Kyle Nel, executive director of Lowe's Innovation Labs. "As a result, we developed autonomous retail service robot technology to be an intuitive tool customers can use to ask for help, in their preferred language, and expect a consistent experience."

The robots will not be making an appearance at stores nationwide anytime soon. The company will deploy two robots at its store in San Jose, Calif., to determine whether customers and employees make use of the new technology.

The robots also feature 3D scanning technology, meaning users can bring in a part that they need, scan it using the robot's 3D camera and be told exactly how much the part is and where they can find it.

The OSHbot's sensors are the same as those used in Google's driverless cars to avoid collisions. Not only that, but the robot also updates its map of the store's inventory every night.

The robot itself was developed in partnership with Fellow Robots, a tech company that specializes in the creation of autonomous robots.

"The last decade was one of rapid technological advancement and prototyping, especially in robotics," said Marco Mascorro, chief executive officer of Fellow Robots. "With OSHbot, we've worked closely with Lowe's Innovation Labs to take autonomous retail service robot technology out of the sandbox and into the consumer market - enhancing the in-store consumer experience and creating smarter shoppers."

Lowe's says the robots provide another layer of customer support and will be able to help customers with simple questions. This will also give employees more time to focus on offering up product expertise.

"What our sales associates are amazing at doing and what they love spending time on are consulting and helping customers with their projects and solving their problems," continued Nel. "We can let the robots answer questions like, 'where are the hammers?' "

The move highlights a growing concern over jobs being replaced by robots and smart computers. A study conducted by the University of Oxford suggested that as much as half of the workforce in the U.S. is at risk of being replaced by robots within the next 20 years. Jobs in retail were among those most at risk.

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