Innovation

How Lowe's is using AR and Google Tango to help customers find products faster

Smartphones enabled with Google's Tango are being tested in two Lowe's stores to improve store navigation. Find out how this fits in with bigger AR plans for the enterprise.

lowesvisioninstorenavigationguide.jpg

Lowe's new AR in-store navigation.

Image: Lowe's

Lowe's is introducing in-store navigation that uses augmented reality (AR) to help customers search for products in its retail stores.

In April, shoppers in two Lowe's stores will be able to use Google's Tango AR app on Tango-enabled smartphones to access indoor mapping when the technology is piloted in Sunnyvale, CA and Lynwood, WA. Customers without a Tango-enabled smartphone will be able to demo the app with a Lowe's sales associate during the pilot phase.

The technology is useful, and will help shoppers get in and out of stores more quickly, but the only glitch is that the only Tango-enabled smartphone at the moment is the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro. Other Tango-enabled devices, including the Asus ZenFone AR, will come out later this year.

"Our past experiences have shown that customers are embracing AR/VR as part of their home improvement journey. By creating a more seamless shopping experience with augmented reality, our customers are able to find what they need to complete their DIY projects more quickly. Additionally, this frees up the time of our store associates, so that they can spend more time advising customers on home improvement project"," said Kyle Nel, executive director of Lowe's Innovation Labs.

SEE: Google Tango means you'll never get lost in a store again (CNET)

Tango-enabled motion tracking, area learning, and depth perception guides customers through the store with special cameras that sense depth in 3D space. Shopping lists can be created in the Tango app, and the customer is directed to its location in the store with directional prompts overlaid onto the real-world setting. For those familiar with Pokémon Go, it's the same concept. But instead of catching Pikachu or Gyarados, customers will be looking for tools and home improvement materials.

If successful, the concept will be rolled out to other Lowe's stores.

"As with most Lowe's Innovation Labs prototypes, we will evaluate customer response to the app over the course of the next several months, gauging how this technology impacts the home improvement shopping experience. From there, we'll determine what comes next based on our learnings," Nel said.

This is Lowe's second project with Tango. The first was Lowe's Vision, which launched in November 2016, and uses spatial perception in a smartphone to help customers measure spaces and visualize how appliances and home decor might look in their home.

Tango and its AR functionality is also being used by museums such as the Detroit Institute of Arts, to teach visitors about exhibits. Williams-Sonoma Inc. has announced that it will be using Tango in its Pottery Barn stores to give customers a 3D view of potential decor for rooms.

AR growth in the enterprise

It's become accepted wisdom in the enterprise that AR has more use cases than virtual reality (VR) for business. Numbers vary, but the numbers are big. A report from IDC has combined revenue for the AR and VR markets, which are predicted to reach $162 billion by 2020. That compares to just $5.2 billion in 2016. And while VR figures are expected to be greater than AR revenues in 2016 and 2017, after 2017, AR revenues will surge ahead in part due to use in the enterprise, according to the IDC.

In 2015, Digi-Capital predicted that VR would be big, but AR would be bigger and take longer to reach full impact in the enterprise.

"What sounded revolutionary when we first said it two years ago has become accepted wisdom. But the absolute performance of VR/AR in 2016 was not as important as how it changed the trajectory of the market. Where at the start of the year we thought 2016 could deliver $4.4 billion VR/AR revenue ($3.8 billion VR, $0.6 billion AR), the launch year's issues resulted in only $2.7 billion VR revenue. This was counterbalanced by Pokémon Go's outperformance helping AR to an unexpected $1.2 billion revenue, for a total $3.9 billion VR/AR market in 2016," said Tim Merel, founder and CEO of Digi-Capital.

"So now the market has actually launched and we've got 12 months of real world performance with major tech players' strategies emerging, our views on VR/AR growth have changed. A lot. Our new Augmented/Virtual Reality Report 2017 base case is that mobile AR could become the primary driver of a $108 billion VR/AR market by 2021 with AR taking the lion's share of $83 billion and VR $25 billion. Apple and Samsung could launch AR enabled phones in 2018, making mobile AR part of the existing smartphone replacement cycle to deliver 100s of millions of mobile AR users by 2021. There are major implications for Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Samsung and more," Merel said.

This correlates with a 2016 Tech Pro Research report where AR showed more potential for the enterprise, with 67% of businesses considering using AR in the future, while 47% reported VR as a consideration.

Three takeaways for TechRepublic readers:

  1. In April, Lowe's will begin testing in-store navigation through Tango-enabled smartphones at two stores in California and Washington.
  2. The only current Tango-enabled smartphone is the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro, although additional Tango-enabled devices such as the Asus ZenFone AR are due to come out later in 2017.
  3. AR has stronger growth potential in the enterprise than VR, according to Tech Pro Research.

See also

About Teena Maddox

Teena Maddox is a Senior Writer at TechRepublic, covering hardware devices, IoT, smart cities and wearables. She ties together the style and substance of tech. Teena has spent 20-plus years writing business and features for publications including Peo...

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