McDonald's acquisition will see drive-thru customers giving orders to an AI

midian182

TechSpot Editor
Staff member

Mountain View, California-based Apprente was founded in 2017 to create voice AI platforms for complex, multilingual, multi-accent and multi-item conversational ordering.

McDonald’s says the technology will bring faster, simpler, and more accurate order taking at the drive-thru, so no more having to deal with the frustration of finding out you got the wrong meal, hopefully.

As reported by Wired, Apprente says that unlike most other voice AI models, the company’s platform does not transcribe what the customer says and then infers meaning from that transcript; instead, it goes directly from speech signals to result. This should improve results in noisy environments such as restaurants and where customers tend to use colloquial, poorly structured language.

The acquisition marks McDonald’s second major purchase of an AI firm this year. Back in March, it announced plans to acquire Dynamic Yield for more than $300 million, a machine learning start-up that uses predictive algorithms to create personalized recommendations and optimizations in real-time. It works alongside the fast-food chain's digital menus, accounting for factors such as weather, time of day, current restaurant traffic and trending menu items to display the food and drink customers are more likely to purchase.

McDonald’s says Dynamic Yields’ tech is now deployed in over 8,000 of its US restaurants with plans to integrate it into nearly all drive thrus in the U.S. and Australia by the end of 2019.

While McDonald’s never said when Apprente’s voice system might be deployed, it sounds like this could be another case of AI replacing traditional human jobs. Interestingly, Apprente says its system "offers a more consistent and pleasurable customer service experience with its virtual agents never sounding tired, annoyed, unhappy, or angry."

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Uncle Al

TS Evangelist
They tried it at the Kiosk and many, many people rejected it, now they will have to triple the size of their parking lots when people reject the drive in. They just don't understand that when people order food they may have questions and want somebody there to answer the questions. Oh yeah, they'll need to redo all their signage to read "McStupid" ......
 

QuantumPhysics

TS Evangelist
They'd rather replace High School and College workers with Alexa and Siri.

I'm 38 years old and I see the end of America coming faster than I anticipated. The new generations are poorly parented, poorly skilled, impersonal and a disaster for a high-level workforce. High-skilled, high-paying jobs for affording homes and cars are on their way out to Asia.

My only obligation at this point is to earn and save enough money to move when the time comes to a safer more livable country.
 

Dimitrios

TS Guru
They'd rather replace High School and College workers with Alexa and Siri.

I'm 38 years old and I see the end of America coming faster than I anticipated. The new generations are poorly parented, poorly skilled, impersonal and a disaster for a high-level workforce. High-skilled, high-paying jobs for affording homes and cars are on their way out to Asia.

My only obligation at this point is to earn and save enough money to move when the time comes to a safer more livable country.
I agree! I worry with how people are breeding a lot and at younger ages is a big factor. Add up jobs being obsolete or moved to other countries or with robotics/AI advancing quickly it's gonna be a big mess for most humans.
 
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IAMTHESTIG

TS Evangelist
"offers a more consistent and pleasurable customer service experience with its virtual agents never sounding tired, annoyed, unhappy, or angry."... and as dumb as a box of rocks. I don't think this is going to work well, going to have a ton of incorrect orders. Unfortunately customer service is a skill that is quickly dying and nearly all of the younger generation have no concept of it. Even if this AI order taking thing did work, you still have dipshiznits working the grill who don't care and don't pay attention who will be screwing orders up. In the end, you can't fix stupid.
 

Teko03

TS Evangelist
I don't think this is going to work well, going to have a ton of incorrect orders.
Even human drive-thru workers verify the order and at places like McD's, your order is listed on a display for you your self to verify that the order is correct...it's it's wrong when you get it. That's human error.
 
I'm not going into the actual order fulfillment -- we've all been in a situation where the order was correctly placed (fast food, fast casual, or fine dining, doesn't matter where) & the meal didn't match the order. But as far as the actual taking and entering of the order, I've lost track of how many times I've had to correct a drive-thru or counter person ("Hi, I want 4 large sweet teas...No, I said FOUR, not 1...No, I said FOUR SWEET teas, not 3 unsweet!!!"), or had an order misentered into the system. But the number of times I've had the order misentered at a kiosk (both at McDonald's & Wendy's)? Exactly zero.

No, you don't lose customization when using the kiosk. You want to add extra pickles to your burger? No problem. You want less mayo, or even no mayo, on your chicken sandwich? Go for it, dude!

As for questions...I'm sorry, but we're talking about freaking McDonald's here (& by extension other fast-food joints). Their menu has stayed about 80% unchanged for many decades now (barring price changes), & any time they have special promotions (I.e. special toys in the Happy Meal, their recent "international sandwiches", limited-time promotions, etc.), every single freaking time there have been multiple, large-print, easy-to-read signs in the stores with the details, & when they're out of a particular item they usually have a sign up (either on the door or on their cash register) letting you know. And that's why I have zero patience for anyone that stands in line at the restaurant hemming & hawing about their order, & am extremely grateful they have those kiosks. Don't get in line if you don't know what you want to order. It's both common sense & plain old decency. You aren't sure if you want 2 cheeseburgers or a Double Quarter Pounder? Not sure if you want a chicken sandwich or some nuggets? Can't decide if you want a shake or a Diet Coke with your large fries? Stand to the freaking side until you can make up your frigging mind, THEN get in line to place your order.

That being said...the AI isn't going to do as good of a job at interpreting your speech, but should (hopefully) do a much better job of alternating the orders between both of the drive-thru lanes.
 

IAMTHESTIG

TS Evangelist
Even human drive-thru workers verify the order and at places like McD's, your order is listed on a display for you your self to verify that the order is correct...it's it's wrong when you get it. That's human error.
The problem is AI isn't that great with speech recognition. It has gotten loads better, for sure - but it isn't as good as a human. I'm hopeful they will still have an option to say "operator" or "employee" or something to get a human when people have issues getting the AI to correctly interpret their order. I anticipate a lot of people likely to get frustrated with it.
 

etempest

TS Enthusiast
They'd rather replace High School and College workers with Alexa and Siri.

I'm 38 years old and I see the end of America coming faster than I anticipated. The new generations are poorly parented, poorly skilled, impersonal and a disaster for a high-level workforce. High-skilled, high-paying jobs for affording homes and cars are on their way out to Asia.

My only obligation at this point is to earn and save enough money to move when the time comes to a safer more livable country.
I agree! I worry with how people are breeding a lot and at younger ages is a big factor. Add up jobs being obsolete or moved to other countries or with robotics/AI advancing quickly it's gonna be a big mess for most humans.
In the United States, if it wasn't for immigration, the population would actually be declining.
Japan, and Russia population are also declining (for various different reasons).

In the United States, parents are having few children, and having them later in life.
One reason is the high cost of raising kid(s) and latter generations not having the same level of wealth as the Baby boomers.
 

MilwaukeeMike

TS Evangelist
They'd rather replace High School and College workers with Alexa and Siri.

I'm 38 years old and I see the end of America coming faster than I anticipated. The new generations are poorly parented, poorly skilled, impersonal and a disaster for a high-level workforce. High-skilled, high-paying jobs for affording homes and cars are on their way out to Asia.

My only obligation at this point is to earn and save enough money to move when the time comes to a safer more livable country.
If this headline said "McDonalds bankrupt because no one likes junk food anymore" then I'd say America is over.

Jokes aside - there is nothing wrong with this at all. Drive around - you'll see 'Now Hiring' signs everywhere. Everyone is hiring, and it's not going to stop. People are retiring fast and our (I'm 40) generation and the next are having fewer children. We don't have enough people to work already! We need automation just to break even. it's not like Washington is going to figure immigration out.

Then there's this ... $15 minimum wage + Cheap technology = job automation. But so what? Those McDonalds can't find people to work there anyway. With the aging population we need more people to jobs you can't automate, like healthcare. And you don't need a degree to be a CNA.

Plus - technology always creates more jobs than it kills. Back in the 1920's the best economist of the day Keynes (he literally wrote the text book on Economics) said 'Automation will allow us to all have a 15 hour work week' They thought the same thing when the dishwasher and washing machine was invented - what are we going to do with all our free time?

Turns out there's always more work.
 

hahahanoobs

TS Evangelist
I wonder how many people hated the idea of self checkouts?
They're great by the way! After you've used one, you've used them all, so people tend to accept and appreciate them when they get the hang of it.

People suck, including the ones at the drive thru window so this is great news!
 
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DukeJukem

TS Addict
They'd rather replace High School and College workers with Alexa and Siri.

I'm 38 years old and I see the end of America coming faster than I anticipated. The new generations are poorly parented, poorly skilled, impersonal and a disaster for a high-level workforce. High-skilled, high-paying jobs for affording homes and cars are on their way out to Asia.

My only obligation at this point is to earn and save enough money to move when the time comes to a safer more livable country.
we should bring back slavery....except instead of a racially discriminating version it will be for all stupid, worthless people that are causing the downfall of society :p
 

EClyde

TS Evangelist
I wonder how many people hated the idea of self checkouts?
They're great by the way! After you've used one, you've used them all, so people tend to accept and appreciate them when they get the hang of it.

People suck, including the ones at the drive thru window so this is great news!
I like self check outs because there are hundreds less hands touching my stuff. Where have those hands been?
 

treetops

TS Evangelist
I wonder how many people hated the idea of self checkouts?
They're great by the way! After you've used one, you've used them all, so people tend to accept and appreciate them when they get the hang of it.

People suck, including the ones at the drive thru window so this is great news!
I like self check outs because there are hundreds less hands touching my stuff. Where have those hands been?
You know those fields where people pick veggies? You see any bathrooms?
 

mbrowne5061

TS Evangelist
They'd rather replace High School and College workers with Alexa and Siri.

I'm 38 years old and I see the end of America coming faster than I anticipated. The new generations are poorly parented, poorly skilled, impersonal and a disaster for a high-level workforce. High-skilled, high-paying jobs for affording homes and cars are on their way out to Asia.

My only obligation at this point is to earn and save enough money to move when the time comes to a safer more livable country.
Pretty sure Plato said something similar back in the day too.
 

roberthi

TS Addict
I'm OK with this, but DO NOT show me preferred drinks, etc. Just give the menu. None of this so-called AI and predictive analysis ever works. I don't want you to show me what I prefer, because my mood and decisions change. Stop analyzing and just take the order. I want to be able to just let the restaurant know what I'm ordering as I'm driving there so that I can pick it up hot and not worry about all of the interaction junk. Get a robot to make and dispense the food. Get rid of the workers the majority of which hate their jobs and take it out on customers as if it's our fault they're in that job.
 

roberthi

TS Addict
I don't think this is going to work well, going to have a ton of incorrect orders.
Even human drive-thru workers verify the order and at places like McD's, your order is listed on a display for you your self to verify that the order is correct...it's it's wrong when you get it. That's human error.
This. I just went through this very situation yesterday. I was told they would get me the fries I actually ordered after I mentioned they failed to give it to me and they said it was how I ordered it and how it gets keyed in. I supposedly must have gotten confused about what I was ordering and they have to key it in automatically as a meal. I said, "No, I ordered a burger, large fries and large diet coke, another type of burger, a large fries and a large diet coke and another burger meal combo with a regular-sized, regular coke." I had to order it that way because if I order those first two as meals, they would have been wrong...there were special stipulations to those burgers. I ordered correctly, it showed up on the screen correctly. They messed up by not reading the screen, and I don't care how they have to enter it in.
 
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QuantumPhysics

TS Evangelist
I'm OK with this, but DO NOT show me preferred drinks, etc.

Having a Wine List to match specific menu choices to Wines was actually something I love about business class flights where drinking and eating is on demand.

I can imagine that Coke, Sprite and Ginger Ale are the top picks.