Rise of the machines: Silicon Valley hardware store to deploy ROBOTS for customer service

Human interaction? Nonsense! OSHbot will help you now


A California hardware store has decided to bring everyone's dystopian nightmares to life by using robots to perform basic customer service.

Home repairs chain Orchard Supply Hardware, a subsidiary of Lowe's, plans to trial a device dubbed the OSHbot, a mobile robot capable of fielding customer requests and guiding DIYers to the widgets of their choice.

The robots, two of which will debut at OSH's San Jose location this holiday season, sport image recognition and 3D sensing to identify objects you place in front of them, plus bilingual speech capabilities to help them do the jobs normally performed by trained, sentient organic beings.

The company said the helpbots will be able to recognize what products customers are looking for and then lead them to the shelf locations of the items. Such tasks would otherwise have to be done by an employee who would require additional overhead, such as a name badge and an hourly wage.

"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 OSHbot overlord Kyle Nel, also known as the executive director of Lowe’s Innovation Labs.

"As a result we developed autonomous retail service robot technology to be an intuitive tool customers can use to ask for help, in their preferred language, and expect a consistent experience."

OSH developed the robots in partnership with robotics firm Fellow Robots, a startup that specializes in building robots for retail environments.

The OSHbot trial is expected to begin in San Jose within the next few weeks. If the trial doesn't work out, however, we'll all have to revert to the quaint custom of looking other people in the eye and verbally communicating. ®

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