McDonald's to use artificial intelligence to create robot drive-thrus

Artificial intelligence could soon liberate humans from the miserable job of taking McDonald’s drive-thru orders.

Currently, anyone who wants a McMeal has to speak to a disembodied human voice, who disconsolately asks key questions such as whether you want fries with a burger or not.

This could be about to change because the global fast-food chain is buying a start-up called Apprente that develops voice-based, conversational technology, which will be used to take orders from customers in their cars and send them to staff in the kitchen.

It is expected to make the experience faster, simpler and more accurate, McDonald’s said, and could be incorporated into mobile ordering and kiosks.

The change also heralds a future where even a McJob looks desirable. According to the World Economic Forum, machines will do more than half of the jobs currently occupied by humans by 2025.

Apprente has been in operation since 2017, working on voice-based platforms for complex, multilingual, multi-accent and multi-item conversational ordering.

The firm has been testing the system with McDonald’s in Chicago.

Steve Easterbrook, McDonald’s president and chief executive, said the acquisition was designed to ‘meet rising expectations’ from customers and make it easier for workers to serve guests.

‘Apprente’s gifted team, and the technology they have developed, will form McD Tech Labs, a new group integrated in our global technology team that will take our culture of innovation one step further,’ he said.

The maker of the Big Mac wants to grow its presence in the tech capital Silicon Valley, hiring additional engineers, data scientists and other advanced technology experts, to put its 36,000-plus restaurants into the future.

Its latest investment follows the purchase of an AI machine-learning company in March that will automatically change drive-thru menu panels depending on factors such as weather, time, restaurant traffic and trends.

The technology, from Israeli start-up Dynamic Yield, means it could suggest McFlurry ice cream products on hot days, or show what is popular at that particular restaurant at the moment.

It can also come up with instant suggestions based on what the customer has already ordered.

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