McDonalds McDrive restaurant is seen in Gdansk, Po
(Photo by Michal Fludra/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
  • McDonald's announced the acquisition of AI startup Apprente for an undisclosed sum on Tuesday.
  • Apprente builds AI designed to understand and respond to human speech, which McDonald's said it plans to implement at its drive-thrus.
  • Earlier in 2019 the fast food giant bought a separate AI company for $300 million (R4 billion) to help tailor its touchscreen menu offerings to customers.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

McDonald's just bought an AI startup that could take human interaction out of the equation for its drive-thrus.

The fast food behemoth on Tuesday announced it was acquiring Silicon Valley AI startup Apprente. Apprente specialises in using AI to build a "voice-based conversational system," effectively AI that is capable of understanding and responding to human speech.

In a press release McDonald's said the idea was to use Apprente's voice tech to provide "faster, simpler and more accurate order taking" at drive-thrus.

The Wall Street Journal reported in June that McDonald's had started testing voice-activated drive-thrus, in tandem with robotic fryers.

The company has already been trialling Apprente's technology in selected drive-thrus, and not only is it acquiring the company, but also establishing a new tech unit called "McD Tech Labs" to house it.

"McDonald's expects to grow its presence in Silicon Valley with the hiring of additional engineers, data scientists and other advanced technology experts to join McD Tech Labs," the company said. McDonald's did not publicly disclose how much it paid for Apprente.

McDonald's acquisition of Apprente is its second foray into AI this year. In March it bought AI personalisation company Dynamic Yield for $300 million (R4 billion), and is using its technology to tailor menus to customers in attempt to sell them more food.

Other restaurant chains are also investing in tech that could cut out human workers. Starbucks announced its acquisition of Brightloom, a company that had previously operated a chain of restaurants without waiters, in July.

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