SJ hardware store uses robot to help customers

Jonathan Bloom Image
ByJonathan Bloom KGO logo
Wednesday, December 3, 2014
SJ hardware store uses robot to help customers
A hardware store in San Jose has plucked its newest hire straight out of science fiction -- it's using a robot to help customers this holiday season.

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- Around the holidays, a lot of big box stores have greeters at the front entrance. But only one has a greeter that happens to be a robot. Orchard Supply Hardware in San Jose has plucked its newest hire straight out of science fiction.

It's a month before Christmas and here at the store, a shiny new robot is cruising the floor.

OSHbot rolls up to offer you help finding that whatchamacallit. And if it looks like science fiction, that's because it is.

"What we actually do is use a process called science fiction prototyping, where we give all our marketing research and trend data to professional published science fiction writers," said Lowes Innovation Labs Director Kyle Nel.

They came up with OSHbot. Orchard Supply's parent company, Lowe's, hired a local startup to build the prototype and picked a store close to the lab in case it needs emergency brain surgery.

"We actually spend a lot of time close, nearby the robot, seeing how the customer interacts with the robot and getting a lot of feedback," said Fellow Robots CEO Marco Mascorro.

Customers are enjoying the novelty, as long as it doesn't go too far.

OSHbot is not meant to replace humans.

"We have amazing store associates, but very few speak five languages fluently, right?" Nel said. "If there's somebody that can speak those five languages fluently, they probably don't know the real time location of every single object in the store."

One other advantage of robots is they don't need to sleep. So while the workers are nestled all snug in their beds, the OSHbot here roams the aisles, filling its head.

"The robot actually navigates by its own overnight," said Mascorro. "So it learns when they move, for example, a shelf."

And soon, they hope it'll scan objects in 3-D, then take you to find one that matches.

If OSHbot can't find the answer, it'll match you up with someone who can.