is replacing some humans with robots starting next month as it debuts the first robotic shopping assistants in the country.
Two autonomous retail service robots will be unveiled at its Orchard Supply Hardware store in — where else? — San Jose, Calif., the heart of the Silicon Valley technology belt.
The robots, called OSHbots, are programmed to greet customers, ask them if they need help and show them through the store to the wares the customers are searching for. The robot will also feature screens to display ads for products and to allow customers the option to videoconference with an in-store sales associate.
The OSHbots incorporate scanning technology whereby a customer can bring in a spare part and scan the object using OSHbot's 3D sensing camera. After scanning and identifying the object, the OSHbots will provide product information to the customer and help guide them to its location on store shelves.
In the coming months, the OSHbots will also be able to communicate with customers in multiple languages.
"Using science fiction prototyping, we explored solutions to improve customer experiences by helping customers quickly find the products and information they came in looking for," said Kyle Nel, executive director of Lowe’s Innovation Labs.
According to Aaron Task
, editor in chief of Yahoo Finance, corporate America will be watching closely how consumers react to the OSHbots.
"It's kind of like shopping online but you're in the physical store," Task said of expected customer interactions with the OSHbots.
Task said the downside to a successful OSHbot rollout could mean that there may eventually be "a lot of human beings who used to be on the floor who don't have jobs."
He said the next planned version of the shopping robots would have the ability to scan a particular part and actually generate it using a 3D printer.
"If you're an employer and you look at this OSHbot, which apparently costs $50,000, you're saying a minimum-wage worker plus benefits is maybe going to cost me $25,000 to $30,000-a-year, but this robot is never going to take a sick day, is never going to want to go on vacation . . ."
Peter Thiel, the billionaire technology investor who co-founded PayPal, said at a Wall Street Journal tech conference in Laguna Beach, Calif., that people should not fear technology, CNNMoney
"Most people don't like science, they don't like technology," Thiel said. "You can see it from all the movies Hollywood makes, where technology kills people — it's dysfunctional, it's dystopian. People prefer to retreat to their Victorian houses."
The International Federation of Robotics projects sales of more than 400 robots globally between 2014 and 2017 to act as guides or information providers in supermarkets, exhibitions or museums, according to The Wall Street Journal
Andra Keay, managing director of Silicon Valley Robotics, an industry trade association, told The Journal there have been few robots in stores to date because the technology had not matured. But maturity has apparently arrived now, and costs for the devices are dropping.
Keay said she expects robots to appear not only in retail stores but restaurants and other businesses. The Journal noted Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. recently introduced a room-service robot at its hotel in Cupertino, Calif.
"I think we're going to see a rush of companies wanting to be the first [in their industry] to have robots," Keay predicted.
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