Shopping? The robot will help you now

28 Oct 2014 | Author: | No comments yet »

Lowe’s replacing (some) humans with robots.

Lowe’s Innovation Labs introduces retail service robots to help customers shop smarter, navigate stores more efficiently, and instantly access information to confidently complete home improvement projects MOORESVILLE, N.C., Oct. 28, 2014 /PRNewswire/ — This holiday season, Lowe’s Innovation Labs will introduce two autonomous retail service robots in an Orchard Supply Hardware store in midtown San Jose, California to study how robotics technology can benefit customers and employees.

Not so long ago, before the rise of the mega-hardware chains, you could walk into your local home improvement store and find a helpful employee who knew exactly what you needed and where to find it on the shelves.NEW YORK (AP) — Lowe’s is testing whether robots can improve its customer service, like helping a shopper find a match for something as simple as a nail. Called OSHbot, the robots will assist customers to quickly navigate stores by directing them to specific products and providing real-time information about product promotions and inventory.

Applications designed to support employees also include real-time inventory management and connecting with employees in other locations to share know-how and answer customer questions. The OshBot can greet customers at the door, ask them what they need help with and use its 3-D camera to view pieces of hardware to identify them and direct the customer to where they could be found within the store. The robot will also feature screens on its front and back which will display ads for products as well as allow customers the option to videoconference with an in-store sales associate.

Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Aaron Task said it is “amazing” technology, but also points out the implications of adding OSHbots to stores. “The downside is you don’t need a human begin on the floor of your store now if you can do this…” and while there will still be a person in the store assisting via video conference, this means “one human being with a job but there are a lot of human beings who used to be on the floor and now don’t have jobs.” The robot was created through a partnership with Lowe’s and Fellow Robots. Besides natural-language-processing technology, the 5-foot tall white robot houses two large rectangular screens—front and back—for video conferences with a store expert and to display in-store specials. Tell them you need to patch a hole in the wall, and an employee would ask you pertinent questions and walk you around to each of the various items you’d need. After scanning and identifying the object, OSHbot will provide product information to the customer and help guide them to its location on store shelves.

And there are still plenty of people offering this level of service at both smaller and incredibly large hardware stores, but many consumers I know often assume — because of previous bad customer service experiences — that they won’t find someone who is both helpful and knowledgable. In its next phase, the robot could have the ability to scan a particular part presented by the customer, say, a nail or a bolt, and actually generate it using a 3D printer built into the body of the robot itself. So perhaps Lowe’s decision to try out a robot says just as much about what consumers have come to expect from dealing with humans as it does about the stores themselves? “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,” explains Kyle Nel, executive director of Lowe’s Innovation Labs, and owner of a head of incredibly intriguing hair. “We can let the robots answer questions like, ‘where are the hammers?’” One thing the Lowe’s robot offers that stores often can’t is a multilingual interface. That’s incredibly important to many hardware stores, especially in markets where a large part of the local construction labor force is made up of recent immigrants for whom English is not their first language. For now, Lowe’s is just in the testing phase of OshBot, without any specific timeline for expanding the test or rolling out a fleet of robots anytime in the near future. “The big unknown is the human component,” says Nel. “We have the technology that works really well.

Founded in 1946 and based in Mooresville, N.C., Lowe’s supports the communities it serves through programs that focus on K-12 public education and community improvement projects. It has also developed a “holoroom” that can let users see what different pieces of furniture look like in different rooms in a virtual-reality environment.

As customers follow OSHbot to the correct aisle, they will see ads for in-store specials on its back screen as they pass various departments, communicated through in-store beacons. SU Labs, a division of Singularity University, is an open innovation campus where large organizations, startups and field impact partners come to use rapidly accelerating technologies to create new sustainable business solutions and tackle the world’s biggest challenges. To navigate the Orchard store, OSHbot uses lasers to sense its surroundings, the same light detection and ranging system, also called Lidar, used by Google Inc. ’s autonomous cars. OSHbot was born at Singularity University Labs, based at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif. With a diverse team of experts experienced in robotics, software, design and manufacturing, Fellow Robots works closely with its partners to enhance the consumer retail experience through robotics.

The International Federation of Robotics estimates sales of more than 400 robots world-wide between 2014 and 2017 that serve as guides or information providers in places such as supermarkets, exhibitions or museums. There haven’t been more robots in stores to date because the technology hadn’t matured enough, but that is changing, said Andra Keay, managing director of Silicon Valley Robotics, an industry trade association. For example, Lidar systems that help robots to navigate cost roughly $50,000, although there are new smaller units hitting the market for about $7,000, said Ms. In August, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. introduced a room-service robot at its Aloft hotel in Cupertino, Calif. “I think we’re going to see a rush of companies wanting to be the first [in their industry] to have robots,” Ms.

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