Home improvement retailer Lowe's is set to roll out a retail service robot called LoweBot at 11 stores throughout the San Francisco Bay area over the next seven months.
Following a successful test of a similar robot, OSHbot, at one of the company's Orchard Supply Hardware stores, LoweBot — a NAVii autonomous robot — will first appear next month in San Jose, with the aim of exploring how robots can meet the needs of both customers and employees.
LoweBot is the result a development partnership between Lowe's Innovation Labs and Silicon Valley’s Fellow Robots, which also designed the robot used in the Orchard Supply pilot program. The partnership began through Singularity University’s SULab program, which connects corporate innovation teams with startups and other organizations pursuing new technologies.
This announcement probably will freak out a certain percentage of the population that fears humanity's eventual submission at the tin feet of robot overlords, but the development of robots for retail purposes has been a long time coming. Lowe's is one of a handful of retailers that has been working out on the cutting edge of robotics technology for more than two years at this point to realize a vision for how robots could improve customer experiences and assist store staffers as well.
Robots have been pretty well integrated into the supply chain at this point, and are starting to move out into store aisles for retailers. What will they do as they roam the aisles? That may depend on the individual retailers, and how much they want to fold robots into daily store functions like moving inventory and providing customers with additional information on products or sales (Wal-Mart is even reportedly looking at robotic shopping carts).
If LoweBot is anything like the bilingual OSHbot that Lowe's Orchard Supply Hardware stores tested, it may serve as something like a store ambassador to customers, answering simple questions, scanning products and providing an additional layer of customer service alongside that of human store employees.
In any case, this is another interesting move by Lowe's Innovation Labs, which started two years ago and has developed some interesting takes on how to use technologies such as 3D modeling prior to this. It's not clear yet whether robots in retail will work and expand in usage, but there's only one way to find out, and Lowe's is doing it.