Forward-looking: Would you prefer to talk to an AI or a real person when making your McDonald’s drive-thru order? It seems the company believes customers would prefer the former after it agreed to acquire Apprente, a voice-based AI company.
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."