Lowe’s Puts $1.5M into AI Research at UNC Charlotte

Lowe’s and the University of North Carolina, Charlotte have announced the donation will create a new faculty position at the school’s College of Computing and Infomatics, for researching AI and machine learning.

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(TNS) — Have you gone online to shop for paint and ended up with a few other home improvement items in your cart?

That’s at least, in part, artificial intelligence at work.

How about wandered the electrical wares aisle and realized you really need an expert opinion?

At Lowe’s, an employee in a blue vest may be just around the corner to help — thanks again, in part, to artificial intelligence or AI.

On Tuesday, Lowe’s and UNC Charlotte jointly announced a $1.5 million gift for the school’s College of Computing and Informatics. The donation will establish an endowed faculty position at UNCC, filled by someone whose research will focus on AI and machine learning.

And the gift will support student research in high-demand technology applications — strengthening an existing pipeline for graduates going to work in a variety of fields.

“Computing is really ubiquitous in everything ... Every business is a technology business,” says Fatma Mili, dean of the College of Computing and Informatics at UNCC.

The college has seen a nearly 200-percent increase in its student enrollment over the last decade for degrees in computer science, covering areas like cybersecurity, robotics and software engineering.

Lowe’s says it’s looking to have “the best tech team in retail” and is building a 23-story tower in South End to further expand its technology workforce.

Job prospects after college

Lowe’s Chief Information Officer Seemantini Godbole told the Observer the company scouted a number of cities and colleges where it may have invested, but chose Charlotte because of the university and region’s growing reputation as a technology hub.

UNCC graduates close to a quarter of all computing students in North Carolina — and boasts the largest representation in its programs of students of color and women, both populations woefully under-represented in industry.

Those with computing and informatics degrees are in high demand, too.

Mili says students often complete multiple internships before graduation. “The vast majority of our students get job offers before they graduate.”

Recent figures from the university show close to eight of 10 alumni are employed full-time soon after graduating from the College of Computing and Informatics. Another 12 percent of recent grads went on to pursue a higher degree.

And the university’s statistics on placement show at least 61 percent of its alumni find a job in Charlotte, commanding an average starting salary of $76,000.

Top employers include:

  • Wells Fargo
  • Bank of America
  • Duke Energy
  • TIAA
  • Lowe’s
  • Fidelity Investments
  • Amazon
Artificial intelligence in stores


At Lowe’s, headquartered in Mooresville, Godbole heads up the work of using innovation and technology — like artificial intelligence — to transform both the customer experience and that of workers.

A complex set of factors, like the weather, a store’s busiest hours and details on which items sell most on a given day, dictate what expertise is needed for customers, especially do-it-yourself shoppers.

Leaning heavily on innovation, she said, means “we are there to help our customers at the right time.”

Lowe’s already uses machine-learned artificial intelligence as a tool in managing its workforce, Godbole said. Similar technology underpins how the company changes its offerings and sales approach for contractors or pros.

For example, a DIY customer looking online could benefit from a variety of personalized product recommendations and suggestions. A pro or business shopper, on the other hand, Godbole says, typically knows what items they need and sales applications need to work differently.

With the financial gift to UNCC, Mili says it enables students to work directly with Lowe’s as one of the university’s partners to innovate and problem-solve with real-world applications. Students, the dean said, also research and learn about the social implications and ethical quandaries related to rapidly evolving technology.

Inside Woodward Hall on campus, where the College of Computing and Informatics is housed, the second-floor atrium will be named in Lowe’s honor, university officials said.

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