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McDonald’s plans to bring AI voice technology to its drive-thrus

The fast food giant acquired the AI company Apprente
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Epics via Getty Images

Fast food is about to get even faster. McDonald announced today that it is buying the voice tech startup Apprente so it can automate its drive-thru menu. The Mountain View-based company specializes in building voice-based agents that can take orders in multiple languages and accents. The fast food giant has been testing Apprente's technology in several locations and expects it will allow for "faster, simpler and more accurate order taking" at its drive-thrus.

Apprente will form a pivotal part of McD Tech Labs, a new restaurant technology group based in Silicon Valley. The Apprente team will become the group's founding members and co-founder Itamar Arel will serve as vice-president. "McDonald's commitment to innovation has long inspired our team. It was quite clear from our various engagements that McDonald's is leading the industry with technology" said Itamar Arel, Ph.D., co-founder of Apprente and Vice President of McD Tech Labs. "Apprente was borne out of an opportunity to use technology to solve challenging real world problems and we're thrilled to now apply this to creating personalized experiences for customers and crew." The company is planning on hiring more engineers, data scientists and other advanced technology experts to build its presence in Silicon Valley.

The fast food giant say there's potential to expand Apprente's technology into other areas, like mobile and kiosk ordering. But while the new technology may make life easier for customers, may come at the cost of human jobs. McDonald's self-service kiosks will be implemented across all US restaurant locations by 2020, which could reduce the need to hire as many human cashiers.

The food chain's acquisition of Apprente is its third tech deal this year. In April it acquired Dynamic Yield, a personalized data startup, in order to customize its drive-thru menus by the weather, time of day, current restaurant traffic and trending menu items. It also bought a minority stake in Plexure, a New Zealand-based mobile app technology company.

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