This upcoming holiday season, Lowe's Innovation Labs are placing robots in an Orchard Supply Hardware store in San Jose, California. They want to study the benefits of using robotics to assist customers and employees.
Dubbed the OSHbot, these robotic customer assistants can help shoppers quickly navigate the store by providing them the in-store location of a product and advising them with real-time information on product promotions and inventory. Before 2014 ends, OSHbots will also be equipped with communication tools, allowing them to talk to customers using multiple languages. Moreover, the new technology will help them to remotely connect with employees from other Orchard stores when they need to answer specific questions that require a level of 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," said Kyle Nel, executive director of Lowe's Innovation Labs. "We can let the robots answer questions like, 'where are the hammers?'"
Perhaps the most impressive trick that an OSHbot can perform is scanning physical objects. Customers who are locating items inside the store can place an object in front of the robot and have it scanned. Some of these items include pipes, screws and tools.
"People can come in with a random screw and say, 'Mr. Robot, I need more of these,' and if we do have it in the store, they can find it," said Nel. Currently, the robots are said to have the ability to speak and understand English and Spanish.
The OSHbots are a collaboration between Lowe's and Fellow Robots, a technology company in Silicon Valley. The two started to develop the robots in November 2013 at an undisclosed total project cost.
Lowe's has been working on taking full advantage of technology to improve the store's customer service system. Apart from the OSHbots, it has also developed a "holoroom." It's a sort of virtual reality environment where users can see what various pieces of furniture would look like when placed in different types of room.
At the moment, Lowe's is placing only two OSHbots in the store. They hope to add more OSHbots in the future, maybe doubling or tripling the current number.
Store employees can also be assisted by the OSHbots, helping them with real-time inventory management and allowing them to connect with employees in other locations. Since the OSHbots can answer simple questions from customers, store employees will have more time to focus on their building expertise for different project.