Lowe's/Youtube ScreenshotWhenever I visit a Lowe's, the hardware super store feels more like a maze. A few months ago, I spent forever roaming the aisles for a power drill before I finally found an employee.
Soon, I might no longer have to beckon a human — but an Oshbot, a 5-foot-tall robot that can quickly direct me to any item in the warehouse.
"Hi, I’m Oshbot," it then greets you in a monotone voice. "I can help you find things in the store. What are you looking for?"
You then say what you need, and a screen with item options pops up. Once you select exactly what you want, a map of the store appears with a dot that shows the item's location. The Oshbot asks you to confirm that's where you want to go, before it nonchalantly says, "Sure, follow me" and rolls away.
A chain owned by Lowe's, called Orchard Supply Hardware, is testing two Oshbots in a San Jose, California store. Oshbots will soon work in actual Lowe's US stores, though no exact word on when, The Wall Street Journal reports.
The bot walks, talks, and has two main responsibilities: helping customers find items they need and helping managers track inventory.
Bots like this could signal the future of service work. Although they're not (yet) intelligent enough to provide full human judgment, they are in some ways more efficient than normal workers. Bots — who work for free once employers pay the upfront cost — have the potential to replace service workers. The International Federation of Robotics estimates over 400 robots will serve as guides in supermarkets, stores, or museums by 2017.
Oshbot can do things that many humans cannot, like speak multiple languages. In fact, it's fluent English, Spanish, and five different Asian languages.
"Our research showed language was a huge pain point for customers," executive director of Lowe's Innovation Labs Kyle Nel told Fast Company. "Knowing you can walk up to a robot and communicate with it and you know it’s going to speak Japanese or Mandarin is a big deal."
It also tracks inventory in real time and alerts employees when something is out of stock, possibly stolen, or not on the right shelf. Because it's always tracking items, its system can spot new revenue opportunities for Lowe's. Soon, it will be able to scan items and tell customers whether the store has more in stock.
Lowe'sMore retailers — both online and off — are employing robots as a way to increase productivity and speed. Amazon, Zara, and Bonobos use robots in its warehouses to help retrieve, package, and ship orders. Best Buy is testing a customer service robot named Chloe at a New York City store. Panera Bread will soon unveil bot kiosks in select US stores.
The automation of work is only increasing. Some economists even predict that smart robots will take half of all human jobs within the next decade. But they may also create more interesting jobs for humans.
"Over the years we've seen tech develop further and further, and we've seen the nature of different jobs change," CEO of AI tech company Dato Carlos Guestrin previously told Tech Insider. "Nothing is going to be different than it was before [for the US economy]. What we'll see is perhaps a shift in the kinds of things humans do."
The Oshbot and its peers will make shopping in big box stores like Lowe's way less bewildering. Next time I visit its warehouse, the bot can point me in the right direction. I can grab my power drill. And I can get out.