Lowe's Holiday Help: Robots

But chain says high-tech OSHbot is there to help human workers, not displace them
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 30, 2014 1:48 PM CDT

(Newser) – Retailers typically hire more workers to help out around the holidays, but Lowe's is taking an especially novel approach to this year's seasonal staff: putting robots to work. The OSHbot will be available for customer service tasks at the company's Orchard Hardware Supply store in San Jose, including helping people find items in the store, offering info about products, and flagging down human counterparts to answer more in-depth questions, PC Magazine reports. The robots will speak English and Spanish for now (other languages will be added later) and head by themselves to an in-store charging station when they're low on power, the New Yorker reports. If the thought of an entire army of androids swarming out to help you make a paint swatch selection creeps you out, never fear: Just two are being deployed, with hopes to roll out more nationwide if the test run is a success.

Kyle Nel, the head of the Lowe's division that built the robots, says there's a reason why they're referring to each robot as "it" rather than "he" or "she." "I don't want to anthropomorphize something that's there to help but is not a person," he tells the New Yorker, adding that the bots are definitely not there to push the humans out. "It's really honestly and truly not about reducing workforce," he says. "The name 'robot' has a lot of baggage to it, but the features are directly tied to helping the associates out." The New Yorker's Vauhini Vara backs him up, speculating that "if the Lowe's robots get more people shopping at Orchard, Lowe's may well need to hire more humans to handle the additional sales volume." (A baseball team in South Korea has a team of robots that cheer it on in the stadium.)

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