Lowe’s Innovation Labs: Holoroom, Retail Robots and More!

You know about the great research labs of Bell, IBM and Hewlett Packard. At all these places, basic research led to world-changing innovations: radio astronomy came from Bell’s attempts to pull static from short-wave communications; the floppy disc came from IBM’s work with one-transistor memory cells. Now the home improvement giant, Lowe’s, is getting into the research game with Lowe’s Innovation Labs (including a Boulder office!). What’s the purpose of tech at a home improvement store? Well, check out the Holoroom, above.

The concept is straight out of science fiction. Literally. Lowes put together a think tank of sci-fi writers and heaped upon their visages all sorts of market research and trends data from whence the sci-fi writers, “imagined new solutions to common consumer problems,” Lowe’s writes. They call it “sci-fi prototyping.” What’s even cooler is that they’re building the best ideas.

One of them is the Holoroom, basically a rectangular room that houses a virtual reality world. Here is your kitchen as it now exists. And with some presto-changeo, here is how your remodeled kitchen could look. Nah, that’s not quite right. Let’s ditch the island, put in some more cabinets, and now here is how the kitchen could look. Lowe’s says that the Holoroom is “designed to help consumers overcome the challenges of visualizing and articulating their vision for a home improvement project.”

We think it sounds cool.

Science Fiction Prototyping also thought that customer service robots would be cool. Enter OSHbot, which premiered at a San Jose hardware store this past holiday season. It speaks many languages, knows exactly where everything is in the store, knows what’s on sale, and even knows if the store is temporarily out of an item you’re looking for. If you have a question OSHbot can’t answer, it can video-link you to an expert employee at another store who can tell you how to frame a doghouse or plumb a garbage disposal. Watch for OSHbot rolling out in greater numbers in 2015.

In the meantime, let’s all put our hands in the air and wave ’em like we just don’t care to thank Lowe’s Innovation Labs for helping us make the Boulder Mini Maker Faire happen!

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