As a kid, I always wanted to be on the TV show "Supermarket Sweep."
In the middle of a Lowe's store in 2017, my dream almost came true. The home improvement retailer is rolling out an augmented-reality app that tells you the fastest way to find items on your list.
It's powered by Google's Tango, an indoor-mapping technology using special cameras to sense depth in 3D space. Measure objects, map a room and see virtual objects in the real world with augmented reality.
With a phone in one hand and a shopping cart in the other, I'm rushing around the aisles pulling items off the shelf. On screen I see a yellow line overlaid on the camera image, navigating me to the next item on my list. There's an aisle and shelf number in case I get really confused, as well as an estimate step counter that tells me how far I have to go.
Once I've found everything on the list, the yellow line navigates me to the nearest checkout.
The app doesn't work on every phone. You need a Tango-enabled device, and the only one available now is the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro.
Other Tango-enabled devices like the Asus ZenFone AR are coming later this year. In the meantime, you'll be able to borrow a phone in-store to try it out. It's launching in April at two Lowe's locations in Sunnyvale, California, and Lynnwood, Washington. Adding more stores to the rollout shouldn't be difficult, as the app uses existing planograms, or digital maps, that show the location of items on shelves.
Tango is not just limited to in-store applications. It's already being used by museums, including the Detroit Institute of Arts, so visitors can learn about exhibits with augmented reality.
Lowe's is also testing a VR experience to walk customers through DIY projects like re-tiling a bathroom. Using an HTC Vive headset and controllers I used a drill to mix mortar and water, placed tiles on the wall and sponged off the excess as visual and haptic feedback walked me through the process. The Lowe's Holoroom How-To VR experience is available at Framingham, Massachusetts, and two locations in Canada.
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