May 'AI' Take Your Order? McDonald's Says Not Yet - 2 minutes read

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McDonald’s is ending a two-year-old partnership with IBM to test AI’s ability to replace drive-thru workers at more than 100 restaurants, according to Restaurant Business. The world’s largest fast-food company is reportedly pulling the technology later in July. However, McDonald’s tells Gizmodo this experiment with IBM has “given us the confidence that a voice-ordering solution for drive-thru will be part of our restaurants’ future.”

While it’s unclear why McDonald’s is ending its deal with IBM, mishaps with the McDonald’s AI drive-thru went viral in the past. One customer watched in disbelief as the AI system malfunctioned and ordered 2,510 McNuggets Meals, totaling $264.75. Another customer struggled with the AI system for roughly a minute attempting to order a Big Mac and drink, before a human took over to speed things along. Someone else tried to order a large water and ice cream, and the AI ended up ordering them three butter containers, four ketchup packets, and a caramel sundae.

“Through our partnership with IBM, we have captured many learnings and feel there is an opportunity to explore voice ordering solutions more broadly,” said a McDonald’s spokesperson in an emailed statement to Gizmodo. “After thoughtful review, McDonald’s has decided to end our current global partnership with IBM on AOT [automated order taking] beyond this year.”

McDonald’s also says it will make a decision on the future of AOT by the end of this year. The comment suggests McDonald’s will partner with another AI provider on drive-thru technology, potentially Google. In December 2023, Google and McDonald’s announced an AI partnership that promised “to power exciting new experiences for crew and customers.” According to Bloomberg, part of the deal includes a McDonald’s specific AI chatbot for employees called “Ask Pickles,” which seems to tell crew members how to do their jobs.

McDonald’s is one of many fast-food leaders attempting to automate employee jobs. The founder of Chipotle’s new restaurant, Kernel, is completely based on automating the jobs of fast food workers. Wendy’s is also experimenting with AI-powered voice ordering through its FreshAI. Checkers, Carl’s Jr., and Del Taco were experimenting with AI-powered drive-thrus last year, but the company they were all working with turned out to be powered mostly by humans in the Philippines.


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