McDonald's to stop testing AI to take drive-thru orders, after huge IBM partnership

McDonald's announces it is ending its AI drive-thru ordering partnership with IBM 'no later than July 26, 2024' while looking for new AI partners.

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McDonald's has just told its franchise operators on Thursday that it's removing AI order-taking technology from over 100 drive-thrus after a test period ends with an AI partnership with IBM.

McDonald's to stop testing AI to take drive-thru orders, after huge IBM partnership 117

A McDonald's spokesperson confirmed the news with Business Insider, saying that customers have been using the AI-powered drive-thru technology since 2021, after McDonald's entered a global partnership with IBM. Under the partnership, IBM acquired McD Tech Labs, something McDonald's created after taking control of AI speec company Apprente back in 2019.

The two companies deployed and developed the AI technology during the test period to "determined if an automated voice ordering solution could simplify operations for crew and create a faster, improved experience for our fans". But, it simply didn't work. McDonald's CEO Chris Kempczinski told CNBC in June 2021 that the voice recognition technology was accurate about 85% of the time, with human staff assisting in around 1-in-5 orders.

Mason Smoot, chief restaurant officer for McDonald's USA, said in the system message: "While there have been successes to date, we feel there is an opportunity to explore voice ordering solutions more broadly. After a thoughtful review, McDonald's has decided to end our current partnership with IBM on AOT and the technology will be shut off in all restaurants currently testing it no later than July 26, 2024".

McDonald's said: "As we move forward, our work with IBM has given us the confidence that a voice-ordering solution for drive-thru will be part of our restaurants' future. We see tremendous opportunity in advancing our restaurant technology and will continue to evaluate long-term, scalable solutions that will help us make an informed decision on a future voice ordering solution by the end of the year".

IBM said: "IBM developed automated order taker technologies with McDonald's to support the emerging use of voice-activated AI in restaurant drive-thrus. This technology is proven to have some of the most comprehensive capabilities in the industry, fast and accurate in some of the most demanding conditions. While McDonald's is reevaluating and refining its plans for AOT, we look forward to continuing to work with them on a variety of other projects".

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