There may come a day when you walk into Lowe's looking for a wrench and ask a robot where to find it.
The home improvement retailer is introducing the LoweBot in 11 stores in the San Francisco Bay area, starting with San Jose in September. The LoweBot is a NAVii autonomous retail services robot capable of getting around the store, scanning inventory and leading customers to whatever screw, hammer or toilet seat they're looking for. Customers can either ask the robot or type in their request on a touchscreen.
This isn't to say Lowe's will become a robot-run retailer devoid of any humans.
"Leaving the data and simple recommendations to NAVii allows Lowe's employees to devote their attention to the Lowe's customer," Marco Mascorro, chief executive officer of Fellow Robots, said in a statement. Fellow Robots specializes in the design and development of autonomous service robots and partnered with Lowe's on the project.
The robot first made it into one of the company's Orchard Supply Hardware stores for a pilot run. Lowe's wanted to see if the technology worked and if people actually liked it, Kyle Nel, executive director of Lowe's Innovation Labs, told CNET.
This new phase means seeing how the robots do in larger stores and, of course, in more than one store.
"We hope to better understand what scale in multiple stores could look like so we can determine what happens next," Nel said.
Lowe's isn't the first retailer interested in how robots can help employees and customers. In April, in one of its downtown San Francisco stores, Target did a one-week trial of a robot that could track inventory. In New York last year, Best Buy tested out a customer service robot named Chloe. Behind the scenes, robots have been used in places like Amazon's fulfillment centers for years.
So, the LoweBot might just be a hint of what's to come in customer service.
Just don't ask it which paint color would look best in your kitchen.