The robots are coming.
Lowe's is testing whether new bots on wheels can improve its customer service, like by helping a shopper find a match for something as simple as a nail.
Four robots are being tested at an Orchard Supply Hardware store owned by Lowe's Cos. in San Jose, Calif. Orchard operates 71 stores in California and two in Oregon.
The robots, dubbed OSHbots, look like white columns, with two large black screens on each side and wheels to help them move. They were developed through a partnership formed last November between Lowe's Innovation Lab and Fellow Robots, a Silicon Valley technology company specializing in the design and development of autonomous service robots.
They are equipped with 3-D cameras so they can scan and identify items. And customers can research items they want to buy on their screen. Then the robot can lead them to the aisle where an item is located.
For store employees, OSHbots will provide an additional layer of support by helping customers with simple questions, enabling more time for them to focus on delivering project expertise. 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.
"They're based on making a science fiction story a reality," said Kyle Nel, executive director of Lowe's Innovation Lab.
The robots also have a database of what inventory is in stock at the store, so they can let customers know whether something is in stock.
"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," Nel said. The robots can speak English and Spanish.
Lowe's has been working on infusing more technology into its customer service. 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.