- Home improvement retailer Lowe's and partner Microsoft are expanding a pilot program of HoloLens, the Microsoft augmented reality technology that enables shoppers to virtually design and plan renovations, from two stores to five, the software giant's CEO Satya Nadella announced at his company's Ignite IT conference this week, reports USA Today.
- The initial pilot program began in March in a Lowe's store in Seattle and another in Raleigh, NC, where customers could use HoloLens to help them virtually design a new kitchen. Neither Lowe's nor Microsoft has said yet which three stores are included in the expansion.
- At the the Ignite event, Lowe's and Microsoft also reportedly showcased new HoloLens capabilities not initially used in the pilot program, including use of Microsoft's Cortana Intelligence Suite to analyze a customer's specific taste in decor and provide recommendations from a Pinterest board of relevant ideas.
Lowe's has proven to be a perhaps unlikely leader of the retail industry's move to embrace virtual reality and augmented reality technologies. The home improvement chain worked with SciFi Futures more than two years ago to develop the concept of a "HoloRoom," allowing customers to virtually design rooms. The HoloRoom concept was fully realized with technology from Marxent and Oculus, among others, and later expanded.
The Lowe's/Microsoft relationship began earlier this year, with Lowe's demonstrating that it is open to testing and using different types of VR and AR solutions from different partners as it looks to get a sense of consumer interest and how these solutions might improve the overall customer experience.
The HoloLens appears to be more of a developer tool and intended more for commercial applications than the VR and AR gear the typical consumer would buy and enjoy. It's priced at a non-consumer-friendly $3,000, but as Wareable notes, its holographic 3-D modeling scheme allows users to do some interesting things, such as "pinning" a holographic image so that it can be moved around in a field, a capability that sounds like it would be very handy in testing different approaches to room renovations.
Though Lowe's has been out front with these new technologies, it is still not completely apparent how broadly it will commit to using them throughout its full lineup of stores. The expansion of the pilot is certainly a positive for Microsoft, but it puts the technology in only three more stores than it had been in before. (It's fair to wonder if overall availability of the headset could be a factor there, though Lowe's has said it has multiple headsets per store.)
The reality — not the virtual or augmented one; just the vanilla version we live with — everyday is that the HoloLens is still in too few stores to really predict whether or not Lowe's or other retailers could eventually make it much more integral to their in-store operations.