OM in the News: Newest Workers at Lowe’s are Robots
Lowe’s is introducing the OSHbot robotic shopping assistants next month, the first retail robot of its kind in the U.S., writes The Wall Street Journal (Oct. 28, 2014). The OSHbot will greet customers, ask if they need help and guide them through the store to the product. Besides natural-language-processing technology, the 5-foot tall white robot houses two large rectangular screens—front and back—for video conferences with a store expert and to display in-store specials. The head features a 3-D scanner to help customers identify items. OSHbot speaks English and Spanish, but other languages will be added. OSHbot is “solving a big problem,” says a Lowe’s executive. “It is a way to bring more shopping convenience and some of the benefits of e-commerce into a physical store.”
As customers follow OSHbot to the correct aisle, they will see ads for in-store specials on its back screen as they pass various departments, communicated through in-store beacons. Customers who need help with, say, a specific type of plumbing project can initiate a video conference on OSHbot’s front screen with available experts at any store. OSHbot also can help customers match a certain-size nail or hinge with a 3D-scanner and determine immediately if the part is in stock. In the future, OSHbot may be able to create the part with a 3-D printer.
To navigate the store, OSHbot uses lasers to sense its surroundings, the same light detection and ranging system (called Lidar) used by Google’s autonomous cars. OSHbot creates a map of its surroundings using technology called simultaneous localization and mapping that it can refer to later. By matching the map it creates to the store map of where products are located in the store, it can lead a customer to a specific hinge or hammer.
The bottom line: There haven’t been more robots in stores to date because the technology hadn’t matured enough, but that is changing.
Classroom discussion questions:
1. How feasible is the use of robots like OSHbot throughout the retail sector?
2. Provide other examples of the use of service robots. (See our blog on room service robots).