Lowe’s Home Improvement is introducing four customer service robots as a pilot program in one of their Orchard Supply Hardware Store in San Jose, CA. Dubbed OSHBots, the robots are bilingual shopping assistants designed to guide customers quickly through the store and bring the quick navigation of e-commerce into the physical store.

The OSHbots were born out of Lowe’s experimental Innovation Lab, where science fiction writers partner with lab researchers to think outside of the box, envision unmet needs and design for the future. The writers draft a product visualization based on market data, customer pain points and their own imaginations, and then the prototypes are built. Like all of Lowe’s Innovation Labs projects, the robots started with a comic book that imagined a way to ease customer frustrations. Other notable brands working in similar capacities include PepsiCo, Del Monte and Hershey.

The primary goal of the robots are to speed up in-store navigation, a frequent complaint with many warehouse style big-box stores. Customers can speak to the OSHbot in their native language or simply scan the item with the outfitted 3D scanner. If a customer brings in a screw from home, the OSHbot can scan the screw, search the database and locate the screw in- store or online then assist the customer to the exact location in the store.

“Home improvement is a very high involvement thing,” said Mr. Nel, Executive Director of Lowe’s Innovation Lab. “So having that ability to ask questions in your native language every time, to a robot, makes the expectation that every time you’ll have the same high quality experience.”

The unanswered question is how customers will react to the OSHbots. And Lowe’s is not the only one pioneering robo-staff this year. In August, Aloft hotel launched Blotr, a robotic bellhop that delivers hotel guests items from the front desk.
Both Lowe’s and Aloft management have stated that the robots are being introduced to enhance customer service and not to replace human workers. Employees will have more time to interact creatively with customers.

Using robots for menial tasks is a cost efficient trend that is here to stay. Whether it be a personal sous-chef robot, Mellow, or Google’s self driving cars, technology is being used to revolutionize our day-to-day experiences.