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Lowe’s Tests Interactive Virtual Models of Two Stores

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Home-improvement retailer

Lowe’s

Cos. said it’s created immersive, interactive three-dimensional models of two of its U.S. stores to achieve better visibility into inventory data and store layouts.

The models, also known as digital twins, are essentially fully virtual versions of the physical stores, updated in real time with information from sensors and point-of-sale devices such as cash registers. The company is currently piloting the digital twins in its Mill Creek, Wash., and central Charlotte, N.C., locations.

Lowe’s is leveraging

Nvidia Inc.’s

Nvidia Omniverse, a real-time graphics collaboration platform, to create these digital twins and iterate on them. Santa Clara, Calif.-based Nvidia is known for its graphics processing units—graphics chips originally designed to deliver cutting-edge performance to videogames that have gone on to help power everything from artificial-intelligence calculations in data centers to cryptocurrency mining. The digital twin is another application of these processing chips’ graphics power.

The concept of a digital twin has been around for a while and involves creating virtual three-dimensional versions of all kinds of real-life objects or places, analysts say. So far, these digital twins have been primarily used in manufacturing and factory scenarios, they say.

Seemantini Godbole,

the chief digital and information officer of Lowe’s, says their purpose includes helping store planners optimize layouts and better perform analytics on inventory and sales data. Additionally, associates on the ground can access the digital twin by wearing augmented reality headsets. They can then see detailed information about the inventory in front of them, including partially obscured items in hard-to-reach places.

“The way I think about it is, we are trying to give superpowers to our associates,” said Ms. Godbole, adding that associates tasked with restocking or reorganizing inventory can check their work by overlaying a hologram of the digital twin over the actual version to ensure they’ve placed the correct inventory in the correct place.

Ms. Godbole says the project is in its initial stages, but showing promising results. So far, the digital twins have been used to better understand when two specific products are frequently bought together so they could then be placed closer to each other.

Until now, most use cases for digital twins have been concentrated in factories and the manufacturing sector, said Tom Mainelli, an analyst at research firm International Data Corp. Creating digital twins of machines can help train workers on how to use the machines and provide internal visibility into any problems with them without having to take them apart, he said.

One challenge, he said, has been the complexity of creating digital twins, especially of older machinery where information about its components doesn’t already exist in digital formats.

Ms. Godbole said Lowe’s had already done some of the groundwork for this by creating three-dimensional, virtual representations of its products to put them on its website for customers shopping online. Additionally, it already had some sensors in place.

Lowe’s says it has no clear timeline for when it might extend the digital twin technology beyond Mill Creek and Charlotte. Ms. Godbole says it’s unlikely the company would roll it out to all its stores in the immediate future. She said it might explore doing so for a handful of stores, potentially giving priority to those that frequently update their layouts to focus customers’ attention on seasonal products.

Write to Isabelle Bousquette at [email protected]

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