McDonalds Partners With IBM to Automate Drive-Thru Work

The obvious question is: When can they start handling upset customers?
Loukia Papadopoulos

McDonald’s has entered a strategic partnership with IBM to develop artificial intelligence (AI) technology to automate the fast-food chain's drive-thru lanes.

“In my mind, IBM is the ideal partner for McDonald’s given their expertise in building AI-powered customer care solutions and voice recognition,” McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski said on the earnings call with analysts Wednesday according to CNBC.

If this sounds like trouble, that's because it is. For starters, trying to communicate with an AI to get your food is bound to be an exercise in patience and for seconds this move is set to steal jobs from some hard-working low-income employees.

As part of the new deal, IBM will buy out McD Tech Labs which will provide the technology for the new drive-thrus. This company was formerly known as Apprente before McDonald’s acquired it in 2019. 

But the fast-food chain is not going into this deal blindfolded. It already tested McD Tech Labs' technology on several Chicago stores this summer and Kempczinski said the test showed “substantial benefits” to customers and employees.

Was the trial well-received by the rest of the McDonald employees? Kempczinski claimed at the time that human workers responded very well to the new system, according to Nation’s Restaurant News.

“We’ve had to do a little bit of training of ‘just keep your hands off the steering wheel, let the computer do its work,'” he explained.

The real test however will be to see how the AI will tackle a disgruntled patron. Will the automated system be able to cope with the intricacies and sensitivity required to handle a customer who is upset about service? Only time will tell.

In the meantime, tests revealed that the new system could already handle about 80 percent of the incoming orders with about 85 percent accuracy. Those aren't bad numbers, but they are still not 100 percent, which could spell some issues for the firm.

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