Lowe’s Innovation Labs Shows Future of Retail: Robots and Holograms
As demo’d at CES 2015, robots and holograms will help customers find exactly what they need, but Lowe's missed golden opportunity to incorporate holograms into massive smart home at the show.
Julie Jacobson · January 28, 2015
You know how when you go into a Lowe’s store and you want to find a specific screw and you have no idea where to find it, there’s never anyone around to help you?
That scenario could be a thing of the past if developments at Lowe’s Innovation Labs come to pass.
At CES 2015, the home improvement store demonstrated two in-store innovations to help shoppers find what they want. The first is a robot that will take you directly to that elusive screw.
Lowe’s Autonomous Retail Service Robots (ARSR) first appeared last December at a store in San Jose, Calif., answering shoppers’ questions via natural (multilingual) language processing, and escorting them if necessary to their intended destination.
The robots should prove particularly useful in the case of niche products such as the Lowe’s Iris home automation system, which I have yet to find in any Lowe’s store I’ve visited.
Unlike the friendly front-door helpers who can tell you the exact coordinates of any given screwdriver, but doesn’t know the first thing about automation, a robot would know just how to answer the question: Where can I find Lowe’s Iris? If no one in that department can answer my questions (as is usually the case), the robot can call up a knowledgeable pro from another store.
The robot was developed in partnership with Fellow Robots, a Silicon Valley technology company specializing in the design and development of autonomous service robots.
Lowe’s Hits with Holoroom, But Misses Home Automation Opportunity
The robots incorporate scanning technology developed for another Lowe’s Innovation Labs project: the Holoroom “home improvement simulator.”
I tried out a version of Holoroom at CES and it was super-cool. Then again, I’m embarrassed to admit I’ve never really tried augmented reality for a practical application.
Imagine showing off a Holoroom that allows customers to scan a smart home, trying out Lowe’s Iris-compatible home automation devices.
The Holoroom immersive-experience application was introduced to two Toronto-area stores last year to help customers design bathrooms (new product categories are coming).
In the first trial, the app is implemented in a handheld tablet, with users able to select fixtures and finishes, and then pan and tilt the tablet to see how the room looks in every direction – up, down, left, right – all in realistic 3D renderings.
At CES, Lowe’s showed the technology incorporated into Oculus Rift.
I donned a pair of the virtual-reality goggles (my first time) and spun around to view the entire room, moving in to get a closer look. The CES prototype didn’t let me select new finishes and layouts with the push of a virtual button, but Lowe’s is getting there.
Seems Lowe’s missed an opportunity at CES to incorporate technologies from the Innovation Labs into the massive automated home it erected at a separate location on the show floor.
Imagine showing off a Holoroom that allows customers to scan a smart home, trying out Lowe’s Iris-compatible sensors, smart bulbs, thermostats, security keypads, cameras, doggie doors and more.
In the Meantime, Here’s an Idea
Why not Implement the robotic and hologrammatic features in a simple app and tie it to the local Lowe’s store?
I should be able to snap a picture of an Iris motion sensor from my phone, learn that it’s available at a nearby Lowe’s, and then navigate my own way through the store. What the heck, why not be able to skip the checkout line and pay for it from the app?
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Julie Jacobson is founding editor of CE Pro, the leading media brand for the home-technology channel. She has covered the smart-home industry since 1994, long before there was much of an Internet, let alone an Internet of things. Currently she studies, speaks, writes and rabble-rouses in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V, wellness-related technology, biophilic design, and the business of home technology. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, and earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a recipient of the annual CTA TechHome Leadership Award, and a CEDIA Fellows honoree. A washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player, Julie currently resides in San Antonio, Texas and sometimes St. Paul, Minn. Follow on Twitter: @juliejacobson Email Julie at firstname.lastname@example.org
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