McDonald's acquires AI voice firm to automate its drive-thrus

No need to be embarrassed if you can’t pronounce "Stroopwafel McFlurry." McDonald's is planning to swap out real people for robots at a handful of its drive-thrus.

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The company said Tuesday that it acquired Apprente, a tech-focused firm that specializes in building AI-powered voice platforms. The Silicon Valley startup’s voice-ordering is expected to be married with McDonald's drive-thru systems, allowing for “faster, simpler and more accurate order taking,” McDonald's said in a press release.

“Building our technology infrastructure and digital capabilities are fundamental to our Velocity Growth Plan and enable us to meet rising expectations from our customers, while making it simpler and even more enjoyable for crew members to serve guests,” McDonald’s President and Chief Executive Officer Steve Easterbrook said.

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Apprente leverages neuroscience-based technology to create systems that are naturally conversational as well as “engaging, capable of understanding context and able to offer the same sense of immediacy found in human interactions,” per the release. The voice-ordering tech is also equipped for multilingual, multi-accent and multi-item interactions.

McDonald's said they’ve already explored the voice systems in their test restaurants, and they plan to use the new tech to give a more personalized experience to customers. Along with voice ordering, the fast-food giant plans to vary outdoor digital menu displays to show food based on time of day, weather, current restaurant traffic and trending menu items.

Plus, Apprente’s system will allow drive-thrus displays to suggest items based on a customer’s order.

This is the latest move in McDonald's quest to use technology to stay ahead of the competition. In March, the company announced the acquisition of Dynamic Yield, a company that specializes in personalization and decision-logic technology.

The fast-food chain also deployed its machine learning tech in more than 8,000 U.S. drive-thrus and has recently rolled out digital menu boards and self-order kiosks in stores.

McDonald's stock is up 22 percent on the year.

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