04 June 2021
Visitors to McDonald’s drive-thru may soon be talking to a robot rather than a person when placing their orders.
McDonald’s is piloting drive-thru voice control solution at 10 Chicago-area locations, says CNBC report. The solution is about 85% accurate, leaving about one-fifth of the orders to be taken by human staff. While chain-wide implementation may take several years, given the complexity of managing promotions, menu differences, and recognition of regional dialects, technology could represent the next step in the process. automation of fast food.
McDonald’s isn’t the only fast food chain experimenting with automated voice control.
White Castle tested a similar solution, according to CNN, but the channel’s voice command bot has predictive suggestions built in as well. The company plans to enable personalized ordering via license plate recognition, as well as features that take into account the weather and time of day.
Other QSRs have adopted different technological approaches to accelerate the drive-thru experience. For example, the family-run Fair Oaks restaurant in California uses facial recognition to speed up payment transactions.
Automation in fast food is a subject of perennial controversy. Supporters see it as a way to free workers to take on more fulfilling jobs, while opponents see tactics that reduce labor costs by replacing low-skilled workers with technology.
McDonald’s has already taken many steps to automate parts of its operations before this latest pilot. The 2016 launch of its “store of the future” was followed by the chain-wide adoption of in-store touch screen ordering kiosks. The chain has also piloted other AI-based drive-thru technologies, such as touchscreen control that doesn’t require human interaction to place the order.
Speech recognition technology is also controversial in other areas. A Spotify patent for a voice recognition technology that would allow an AI to assess a user’s age, dialect, mood / emotions and other characteristics has been decried as potentially dangerous, according to Opus search. Critics fear that such technology could be used to manipulate users.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Do you think steering wheel voice control technology, once the issues are resolved, is widely used in drive-thru operations? Are there any downsides to its large-scale implementation? In what creative ways might QSRs consider engaging drive-thru personnel if the need to take manual controls is no longer present?
“Voice-activated technology got off to a slow (and somewhat bumpy) start, but it’s getting better and will be everywhere.”