McDonald's orders up an AI startup to boost drive-thru tech

This latest acquisition will help the company establish a Silicon Valley-based R&D facility

McDonald's food

McDonald's has expanded its tech reach by purchasing an artificial intelligence (AI) company that will be put to the task of automating the drive-thru portion of its restaurants.

Apprente, founded two years ago, uses AI to understand fast food orders and aims to cut down on service times. Beyond use in McDonald's drive-thrus, the startup's technology can also be deployed in self-order interfaces, and the mobile app.

The company was established to develop a voice-based conversational system to deliver human-level interactions at the point of making orders.

Taking orders for drive-thrus quickly emerged as a use case for the company's AI technology, shortly after its scientists began developing the platform

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The company's scientists will also be among the founding members of the company's newly-established McD Tech Labs. This institution, based in Silicon Valley, will embark on research and development projects geared towards integrating more tech and automation into the customer experience.

"Building our technology infrastructure and digital capabilities are fundamental to our Velocity Growth Plan and enable us to meet rising expectations from our customers, while making it simpler and even more enjoyable for crew members to serve guests," said McDonald's president and CEO Steve Easterbook.

Itamer Arel, co-founder and vice president of McD Tech Labs, added: "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.

"We've spent the past couple of years tackling this challenging real-world task, and along the way, we developed novel machine learning and speech understanding technologies, culminating in an industry-leading, robust and scalable solution."

This acquisition follows several tech-based purchases McDonalds has made in the last few months, including the customer services personalisation firm Dynamic Yield in March.

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