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McDonald’s buys tech start-up for automated digital voices at drive-thru

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McDonald’s is hoping a digital automated voice is the special ingredient needed to speed up drive-thru orders at its restaurants.

The global fast food chain revealed it is buying a start-up that develops voice-based, conversational technology, which will be used to take orders from customers in their cars and send them to staff in the kitchen.

It is expected to make the experience faster, simpler and more accurate, McDonald’s said, and could be incorporated into mobile ordering and kiosks.

Apprente has been in operation since 2017, working on voice-based platforms for complex, multilingual, multi-accent and multi-item conversational ordering.

The firm has been testing the system with McDonald’s in Chicago.

Steve Easterbrook, McDonald’s president and chief executive, said the acquisition was designed to “meet rising expectations” from customers and make it easier for workers to serve guests.

Steve Easterbrook

“Apprente’s gifted team, and the technology they have developed, will form McD Tech Labs, a new group integrated in our global technology team that will take our culture of innovation one step further,” he said.

The maker of the Big Mac wants to grow its presence in the tech capital Silicon Valley, hiring additional engineers, data scientists and other advanced technology experts, to put its 36,000-plus restaurants into the future.

Its latest investment follows the purchase of an AI machine-learning company in March that will automatically change drive-thru menu panels depending on factors such as weather, time, restaurant traffic and trends.

The technology, from Israeli start-up Dynamic Yield, means it could suggest McFlurry ice cream products on hot days, or show what is popular at that particular restaurant at the moment.

It can also come up with instant suggestions based on what the customer has already ordered.

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