McDonald’s And IBM Are Starting A New Venture – Replacing Drive-Thru Workers With AI

In a joint statement, McDonald’s and IBM signed a collaboration to update technology at their fast-food outlets’ drive-thru lanes and automate the order-taking process.

IBM will acquire McDonald’s McD Tech Labs and use the funds to speed up the development and implementation of its Automated Order Taking (AOT) technology. The financial details of the acquisition, however, were not disclosed.

“In my mind, IBM is the ideal partner for McDonald’s given their expertise in building AI-powered customer care solutions and voice recognition,” McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski stated.

PakKret, Nonthaburi, Thailand – March 1, 2018: The red sign of McDonald drive thru at daylight and out focus dicut style of McDonald’s logo. The McDonald’s Corporation is the world’s famous restaurant

Following the acquisition of Apprente in 2019, McDonald’s created McD Tech Labs to encourage staff and client innovation.

McDonald’s announced as part of its “Accelerating the Arches” plan, which aims to improve technology across digital operations, delivery efforts, and drive-thru automation. The McD Tech Labs team will join IBM’s Cloud & Cognitive Software division after the acquisition is completed.

The company put Apprente’s technology to the test in Chicago this year. McDonald’s claimed that at the beginning, the system could handle roughly 80% of orders and deliver them with an accuracy rate of 85 percent. 

McDonald’s attempts to improve the customer and employee experience are likely to be accelerated by IBM’s expertise in artificial intelligence (AI).

“McDonald’s development and testing of AOT technology in restaurants have shown substantial benefits to customers and the restaurant crew experience. Moving forward, IBM’s expertise in building customer care solutions with AI and natural language processing will help scale the AOT technology across markets and tackle integrations including additional languages, dialects, and menu variations,” IBM stated.

McDonald’s revenue topped Wall Street predictions in the third quarter, thanks to higher order volumes, higher menu prices, and the relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions in many countries. McDonald’s also credited the success of their new crispy chicken sandwich and celebrity-endorsed meals for their success.

McDonald’s drive-thru digital menu board shows restaurant-specific popular items, based on the learnings of the decision logic technology.

The company is now investing heavily in technology, evidenced by the widespread use of automated order-taking equipment. However, it remains to be seen whether its AI system will keep up with disgruntled drive-thru consumers.

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