Remember back a decade or two ago, reading a science fiction novel, or even a magazine like Popular Science, which envisioned a time, in the not too distant future, where robots would be everywhere? Robots to walk your dog, robots to clean your house, and even talking robots which can replace customer service representatives within a store. Well, that vision has just gotten quite a bit closer to reality.
Today Lowe’s announced that they will begin testing OSHbot robots in one of their Orchard Supply Hardware stores located in San Jose, California. The testing, which will begin as early as next month, will look at the various responses by customers as these 5-foot-tall mobile talking robots patrol the aisles.
These robots will act as shopping assistants. If a customer can’t find a product, they can simply start a dialogue (in multiple languages) with one of these machines, and it will take them over to that product. To further the utility of these robots, they will also be equipped with sophisticated 3D scanners which can be used in a variety of ways, such as matching a certain screw, nail, or hinge needed by a customer. Additionally, once it is scanned the robots can immediately determine if a needed product is in stock.
The project, a collaboration between Lowe’s and startup Fellow Robots, aims to bring convenience to the shopping experience. Over the last several years, ‘big-box’ stores like Lowe’s have seen stiff competition emerge from such sources as Amazon.com and shoppers’ access to smartphones allowing for quick price comparison which may lead them to purchase their products in lower-priced nearby stores or online.
“Instead of seeming ultra-convenient, the big-box experience starts to look like it has a lot of friction,” Doug Stephens, founder of advisory firm Retail Prophet, told the Wall Street Journal. “If robots are a means of alleviating some of that friction, I’d expect to see a lot more robots.”
Future renditions of these robots could get quite a bit more sophisticated, according to the CEO of Fellow Robots, Marco Mascorro. He believes that OSHbot soon may be able to 3D print certain smaller scanned parts via an integrated 3D printer on board.
Imagine walking into a Lowe’s store, beginning a dialogue with a robot, asking if a certain bracket you need is in stock. You then could hand the bracket you need replaced to the robot which will then scan it, determine if the part is in stock, and if not, 3D print that bracket for you. This is where we are headed, whether we like it or not.
“We believed that in the near future — in the next 5 years, 10 years — someone was going to come out with a retail operational robot and that was going to change retail,” said Kyle Nel, executive director of Lowe’s Innovation Lab. “So we figured, why don’t we do it?”
It will be interesting to see how these initial tests go next month. If a success, there is no telling how quickly these machines may make their way into many more Lowe’s owned stores. Let’s hear your thoughts on this interesting move by Lowe’s in the OSHbot forum thread on 3DPB.com. Check out a video showing OSHbot below: