McDonald's Drops IBM's AI Order Tech, Seeks New Drive-Thru Tech

McDonald's will remove the automated order-taking technology from more than 100 restaurant locations by late July

Ben Wodecki, Jr. Editor

June 17, 2024

2 Min Read
McDonald's golden arches outside a restaurant
Anna Barclay/Getty Images

McDonald's is discontinuing the use of AI-powered voice ordering technology from IBM at drive-thru kiosks. 

The fast food giant had deployed the automated order-taking (AOT) system at more than 100 restaurant locations but has decided not to renew the partnership, opting instead to explore alternative voice AI solutions from other vendors.

According to Restaurant Business, the business was happy with the trials but is looking to explore more opportunities.

“While there have been successes to date, we feel there is an opportunity to explore voice ordering solutions more broadly,” Mason Smoot, McDonald’s chief restaurant officer said in a message to franchisees.

The AOT systems will be switched off no later than July 26 with plans to replace the technology to be unveiled by the end of the year.

In 2019, McDonald's acquired AI voice startup Apprente and integrated it into McD Tech Labs, a technology research unit later sold to IBM in 2021. That same year, the companies announced that McDonald's would use the AI voice technology for its drive-thrus and trials had been ongoing ever since.

McDonald’s joined a growing list of fast food firms looking to augment the drive-thru experience through generative AI. Chains using AI technologies in their drive-thrus include White Castle, Del Taco, Hardee’s and Checkers.

Related:Amazon Drops Just Walk Out Tech From Its Stores

Generative AI technologies handle customer orders by processing and converting them into actual orders, automating part of the drive-thru process. A human operator is available to step in if any issues arise, such as if the AI has difficulty understanding a customer's voice. The technology is designed so on-site staff can instead focus on fulfilling food orders.

Several instances of McDonald’s AI system getting orders horribly wrong went viral on social media, including one where a woman tried to order water and vanilla ice cream, only to receive packets of ketchup and butter.

View post on TikTok

While no new potential partners have been announced,  McDonald’s revealed a strategic partnership with Google Cloud last December. This collaboration aims to leverage AI technologies to “create even better experiences for its customers, restaurant teams and employees.”

Google Cloud is powering Wendy’s FreshAI order-taking solution. Wendy’s began conducting initial trials at a Wendy's restaurant in Columbus, Ohio last summer and has since expanded the pilot to more locations.

About the Author(s)

Ben Wodecki

Jr. Editor

Ben Wodecki is the Jr. Editor of AI Business, covering a wide range of AI content. Ben joined the team in March 2021 as assistant editor and was promoted to Jr. Editor. He has written for The New Statesman, Intellectual Property Magazine, and The Telegraph India, among others. He holds an MSc in Digital Journalism from Middlesex University.

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