Don't look now, but all of our lives are about to get a little more futuristic. That is, if you're the kind of person with a lot of home improvement projects on your plate — just check out these new robot helpers coming to Lowe's Orchard hardware stores, and prepare to feel a whole lot older than you did five minutes ago. They're only going to be in action at one Orchard Supply Hardware store in San Jose to begin with, so you won't have to reckon with this dramatic new technology just yet, but it's coming all the same, so start your preparations now.
The robots are known, appropriately enough, as OSHbots, and they can apparently move through the aisles, meet you at the door, and help answer your questions. They figure to be a real boon for communication, as they're multilingual, meaning someone who doesn't speak English could still theoretically get clear, concise information, even if none of the employees can understand them. Of course, this also devalues the unique skill set of any multilingual employees, which is a concern — technology can risk making some human jobs obsolete, after all — but it's likely a fair price to pay for knowing a customer can get their answers despite the language barrier.
The video footage of the new OSHbot is introduced by Kyle Nel, the executive director of Lowe's Innovation Labs. To say that he's proud of his coming automaton fleet would be short-selling it.
Retail really hasn't change too much in the last couple 100 years. The robots are the first thing that can really change the customer experience. The robot will come up to you and say, "Hi, what can I help you with?"
It's striking to see them rolling around, dispensing information like that. I'm inclined to think the mobility is the key that makes it all seem so exciting. Obviously, a stationary five-foot tall kiosk with a screen that can help you find something isn't such daring technology by today's standards, but when you start giving it those traces of sic-fi, robotic aesthetic — the faint bluish-green light strip, the smooth, effortless gliding across the floor — it gains that futuristic appeal that makes it so much fun to watch.
It can even scan an item you brought to the store yourself, and find a match within the store's inventory. If it works as advertised, that's basically the no-fuss solution to the question "do you guys have this thing?" that the hardware world's been waiting for. So start getting used to the idea of our new robot retail helpers, because if they work anything like advertised, the world of hardware shopping may get a whole lot easier.
Images: Orchard Supply/YouTube (2)