US hardware retailer Lowe’s is trialling robots on wheels to see if they can adequately replace a human providing customer service to shoppers.
The chain is testing four autonomous retail service robots - dubbed OSHbots - in one of its Orchard Supply Hardware stores in California.
The 1.5m, 38kg robots use natural language processing technology - in English and Spanish initially - to understand and respond to customer queries, and interact with Lowe's merchandising systems in real-time to determine stock availability.
The machines are run on wheels to allow them to lead customers to the location of their desired product - a smart laser sensor at the base is designed to avoid collisions.
The robots create a map of the physical store during closing hours to ensure they are able to direct a shopper to the correct location of a particular item during trading.
The OSHbots are also equipped with 3D cameras to scan and identify items.
The scanning technology was first developed by Lowe's for its Holoroom home improvement simulator - which uses 3D and augmented reality technologies to allow home owners to visualise a home improvement or design project.
Customers can interact with a human retail employee and research items via a 19.5in screen on the front of the robot. A further 29in screen on the back is dedicated to displaying location-based product offers.
The robots were manufactured by Lowe's Innovation Labs in conjunction with Silicon Valley-based startup Fellow Robots.
“Using science fiction prototyping, we explored solutions to improve customer experiences by helping customers quickly find the products and information they came in looking for,” Kyle Nel, executive director of Lowe’s Innovation Labs, said in a statement.
“As a result we developed autonomous retail service robot technology to be an intuitive tool customers can use to ask for help, in their preferred language, and expect a consistent experience.”