Robots In Retail - Lowe’s Innovation Lab Studies the Possibilities ORiginaly posted on Nextbot

There are a few people who walk into a Lowe’s home improvement store because they need a 3/8-in x 3-1/2-in Stainless Steel Lag Bolt. Many others walk into the store looking for a thingamajig. A sample of which he is carrying in his hand.

Whether it’s a thingamajig that hangs a picture, or it’s a water saving thingamajig that goes in your toilet, the Lowe’s OSHbot will identify the product and direct you to where it is located in the store.

According to Lowe’s, the OSHbot is a retail service robot that “helps customers shop smarter, navigate stores more efficiently, and instantly access information to confidently complete home improvement projects.”

The OSHbot was developed through a partnership between Lowe’s Innovation Labs and Fellow Robots out of Silicon Valley. Why did Lowe’s deploy a retail service robot? OSHbot was introduced during the 2014 holiday season in a store in midtown San Jose, California to study how robotics can benefit customers and employees.

The robot rolls up to a customer coming into the store, greets the customer, then asks if it can be of assistance. The customer can hold up her sample bolt, and the OSHbot’s scanner will identify the object and display information about the product on the screen attached to the front of its body. The OSHbot will immediately know if the part is in stock and lead the customer to the exact location on the shelf where that product can be found. OSHbot can provide this service in 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 in a press release. “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.”

Lowe’s Innovation Labs says this robot is not meant to replace employees. It provides basic support that then frees up store employees to focus on delivering project expertise. Should a customer come into the store and have a question that particular store’s employees cannot answer, OSHbot can connect the customer to an employee in another location who can help answer his or her question.

While the OSHbots were only temporary employees, you never know what the future might hold. Depending on what Lowe’s Innovation Labs learned during that experiment in San Jose, one day you might find yourself standing in the entrance to Lowe’s asking a robot where you can find the thingamajig that turns your ice-maker on and off.

Traci Browne is a freelance writer specializing in manufacturing, engineering and science. You can find out more about her at www.TraciBrowne.com.

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