It’s the rise of the machines at one of America’s most popular home improvement stores. The entitlement generation is going to have to step it up with their work ethic if Lowe’s has anything to say about it. The company recently acquired Orchard Supply Hardware, and will be utilizing robots, dubbed “OSHbots”, for customer service robots. They will appear at the end of November in a San Jose, California store.
When you enter the store, the OSHbot will kindly greet you and ask how it can help. These cyborgs are not your traditional Johnny 5 style machine. They are slender, white pillars on wheels that are not much taller than an average person, equipped on either side with two video screens. Their 3D cameras scan any item you bring in, and recognize it. Or, you can speak your request.
The OSHbot will then search its database of store inventory to see if the item is in stock. It pops up on the screen, and asks you to confirm if it is in fact the item you are looking for. From there, you will be guided to the item at its place in the store. If you need a few more obscure screws that go into your deck, just bring one in and let the OSHBot scan it. Did we mention it speaks English and Spanish? They are also smart enough to know when their power is running low, and scoot over to a charging station to get it replenished.
Kyle Nel, Lowe’s Innovation Lab director is touting that they are “making science fiction a reality”, and the OSHbots are not meant to replace workers, but to assist them. A human worker can call over one of the robots when it is stumped about an uncommon tool or piece of hardware, or use it as a computer terminal. With the history of technology replacing jobs in factories, hospitals and many other occupations, no doubt there will be backlash. Will the OSHbot be welcomed, or resented? There is already a concern about entry level jobs being taken by these machines. Undoubtedly the higher ups at Lowe’s must know that these robots will cut costs of paying employees and their benefits.
Then there is the “creepy factor”. The OSHbot has an automated voice not unlike Hal from 2001 A Space Odyssey, but hopefully these robots will not turn on the clientele with their hammers and chainsaws. There will surely be customers and children that are turned off by the idea of being escorted around by a robot, and perhaps even frightened, not unlike a fear of clowns. Time will tell if these futuristic helpers will become a permanent fixture in all Lowe’s stores, and how they will affect their competition.