In the near future, you might be surprised to visit to the giant hardware store in your town and find yourself greeted by a chatty robot rather than a human sales assistant. A harbinger of this age of robotic shopping is being trialled with two Oshbot robot sales assistants at an Orchard Supply Hardware store in San Jose, California. Built by Lowe’s Innovation Labs and Silicon Valley technology company Fellow Robots using "science fiction prototyping," the OSHbots are designed to not only identify and locate merchandise, but to speak to customers in their own languages.
The personal touch makes visits to cavernous megastores less intimidating – especially when you’re a novice in the world or U-bends and junction boxes. But human sales assistant cost money, which can often be more effectively spent by concentrating human talents on more complex tasks than hunting down a self-tapping drywall screw. To allow this while still keeping customers happy, Orchard Supply, a subsidiary of Lowe’s, is seeing how well robots can take up the slack.
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Standing 5 ft (152 cm) high and weighing 85 lb (38.5 kg), the OSHbot looks like a white pillar with a couple of flat screens stuck on front and back. In its "head" is a 3D scanner that can detect and identify a human body standing in front of it and a smart laser sensor, along with a second in the base, for collision avoidance.
To tackle the task at hand, the robot features wireless networking, voice recognition, product information and location, inventory integration and design prototyping. When first turned on it can spend an evening roaming the store while using the scanning technology created for the Lowe’s Holoroom home improvement simulator to build up a map for autonomous navigation. In addition, its 3D camera can identify objects for customers and help locate them.
Lowe’s points out that the OSHbot provides information in real time about products and inventory and, being, a sales robot, pushes store promotions. It speaks several languages and can connect to live employees if enquiries are beyond the robot's ability. It can also help with inventory management and allow employees to communicate between stores.
"The last decade was one of rapid technological advancement and prototyping, especially in robotics," says Marco Mascorro, chief executive officer of Fellow Robots. "With OSHbot, we’ve worked closely with Lowe’s Innovation Labs to take autonomous retail service robot technology out of the sandbox and into the consumer market – enhancing the in-store consumer experience and creating smarter shoppers."
The video below showcases the OSHbot’s capabilities.