McDonald’s Invests in AI, Voice Recognition

Digital boards market strategically for the weather, while license plate recognition tailors suggestions.

October 28, 2019

SEATTLE—While fast-food restaurants are fighting to stay competitive in an ever-crowded field, McDonald’s is relying on technology to lure new customers, reports the Seattle Times. The fast-food company is spending millions of dollars in artificial intelligence and machine learning to do so.

In March, McDonald’s spent more than $300 million to buy Dynamic Yield to develop artificial intelligence tools. There’s no shortage of investment, which at the moment is going toward the new McD Tech Labs in Silicon Valley, where engineers and data scientists are working on voice-recognition software.

Digital boards market food strategically, taking into account the weather, the length of wait and popularity of items at that store. And when customers are seemingly done with their orders, the screen displays a list of recommendations to get them to buy more. At the drive-thru, McDonald’s is looking into technology that recognizes license-plate numbers, which will identify a customer’s previous orders and tailor a list of suggestions.

“You just grow to expect that in other parts of your life. Why should it be different when you’re ordering at McDonald’s?” Daniel Henry, the chain’s chief information officer, told the Seattle Times. “We don’t think food should be any different than what you buy on Amazon.”

McDonald’s says that the new tech will not cost jobs. Rather, with the unemployment rate at 3.5%, the fast-food industry is facing a serious labor shortage and is looking to hire.

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