McDonald’s Partnering With IBM To Develop More Automated Drive-Thru Lanes
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Fast-food juggernaut McDonald’s is partnering with IBM to develop artificial intelligence technology that will help them to automate its drive-thru lane, potentially replacing employees that operate its drive-thru registers.

IBM, as part of the major deal, will acquire McD Tech Labs, which was formerly known as Apprente before the Golden Arches bought the company in 2019. No financial terms were disclosed for either transaction. “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 said on the earnings call with analysts last Wednesday, Oct. 26.

Here’s the premise behind how it works.

A voice assistant (like Siri for iPhones) takes customers’ orders using Apprente technology. After taking a number of orders, the AI will continue to adapt to better comprehend drive-thru orders. McDonald’s has already tested it out at a handful of Chicago restaurants.

No fewer than 100 employees will leave McDonald’s to work for IBM, according to CFO Kevin Ozan.

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“It isn’t a big financial statement impact, plus or minus, I’ll say, going forward from that,” Ozan said.

The concentrated move has bulked up shares of McDonald’s up to more than 2% after the company’s third-quarter results were released.

McDonald’s is not the only restaurant experimenting with AI-assisted drive thru lanes. Joining the burger chain are White Castle, Sonic, the Ohio-based fast-food restaurant Lee’s Famous Recipe Chicken Restaurant, and Denver’s Good Times Burgers & Frozen Custard.

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