If you go to Lowe’s to buy a hammer or a stack of lumber this fall, you might have a robot offer to help you.
The U.S.-based chain of home improvement stores announced Tuesday that, beginning next month, 11 stores in the San Francisco Bay area will begin using autonomous service robots.
Dubbed LoweBot, the robot is designed to help customers by answering simple questions, such as where they can find light bulbs or where ithe paint section is
By handling more of the basic customer questions, Lowe’s executives hope the robot will free up employees to help customers with project-specific questions.
The introduction of the LoweBot follows a 2014 test where an autonomous robot, called OSHbot, worked in a Lowe’s-owned Orchard Supply Hardware store in San Jose. The OSHbot also helped customers find products and provided information about product promotions.
"For nearly two years, we've studied how robots in our San Jose Orchard Supply Hardware store can help customers more effectively navigate the store to find products and assist employees with inventory scanning," said Kyle Nel, executive director of Lowe's Innovation Labs, in a statement. "Now, we are taking those learnings and applying them to a focused group of Lowe's stores to see how the technology supports a broader customer and employee base."
The 5-foot-tall LoweBot, a Navii robot developed by Silicon Valley-based Fellow Robots, moves on wheels and has a screen in front and in back.
The robot uses inventory scanning and auditing software, has autonomous navigation capabilities and uses voice recognition software, as well.
"We designed the robot to make the shopping experience easier for consumers, simplifying the process of finding the product you're looking for, while also managing the back-end and keeping shelf inventory up-to-date for the retailer," said Marco Mascorro, CEO of Fellow Robots, in a statement. "Leaving the data and simple recommendations to [the robot] allows Lowe's employees to devote their attention to the Lowe's customer, to provide them with thoughtful advice and personalized service."
Other companies have also begun using robots to help with customer service.
Last fall, San Francisco-based Simbe Robotics announced that it had developed a 30-pound, autonomous robot named Tally to move up and down the store's aisles checking inventory.
Also last year, the Aloft hotel in Cupertino, Calif., was using an autonomous robot as a butler, delivering toiletries and snacks to guests’ rooms.