In the near future, you might be surprised to visit to the giant hardware store in your town and find yourself greeted by a chatty robot rather than a human sales assistant. A harbinger of this age of robotic shopping is being trialled with two Oshbot robot sales assistants at an Orchard Supply Hardware store in San Jose, California. Built by Lowe’s Innovation Labs and Silicon Valley technology company Fellow Robots using "science fiction prototyping," the OSHbots are designed to not only identify and locate merchandise, but to speak to customers in their own languages.
The personal touch makes visits to cavernous megastores less intimidating – especially when you’re a novice in the world or U-bends and junction boxes. But human sales assistant cost money, which can often be more effectively spent by concentrating human talents on more complex tasks than hunting down a self-tapping drywall screw. To allow this while still keeping customers happy, Orchard Supply, a subsidiary of Lowe’s, is seeing how well robots can take up the slack.