IBM says it’s rolling out its natural language processing software to more McDonalds drive-thru months after buying the fast-food chain’s automated ordering technology unit, along with the team that built it developed.

IBM already added additional NLP capabilities to its Watson Discovery enterprise AI service last year, and now the burger-flinger AI chatbot will feel the benefits, he said.

In October last year, Big Blue gobbled up McD Tech Labs, which itself was created after McDonald’s bought and renamed voice recognition startup AI Apprente in 2019.

The automated ordering had been tested at 10 Mcshacks in Chicago in June 2021, with humans apparently not required to intervene in about four out of five orders placed with the robots driving the AI.

Speaking at JP Morgan’s 50th annual global technology, media and communications conference, Rob Thomas, senior vice president of global markets at IBM, said Big Blue was “accepting a business they had [McDonalds] kind of struggle with around the command.”

He said IBM “built a thesis” around automated ordering technology (AOT): “We could use our natural language processing technology, which is very good, to augment McDonalds’ technology,” he said. he said, adding, “We are now starting to roll this out to many of their stores, eventually all of their stores.”

He said it was a “great application of technology” at a time of “wage inflation” where there is a need for “quick-service” restaurants.

“We can do all of the steering wheel controls without requiring human intervention, once in a while something will hit the human, but it’s generating big savings for franchisees through the power of software and AI and to creative construction.”

Thomas did not give more information on the specifics of the software that IBM has integrated into AOT. We asked the company for additional feedback.

Drive-thru options are located in tens of thousands of McDonalds outlets around the world, including 95% of its restaurants in the United States. Since the start of the pandemic in March 2020, around 70% of sales in its biggest market have been generated by drive-thru.

In an October earnings call for McDonalds’ third-quarter 2021 calendar, CEO Chris Kempczinski said of the sale of Tech Lab to IBM that it was to outsource development work to “a partner who can then detonate it and scale it globally.”

He said he was pleased with the progress of the 100 or so employees working at the Tech Lab, who he said have transferred to IBM. “But there’s still a lot of work to do to introduce other languages, to be able to do that in 14,000 restaurants with all the different menu permutations etc. And that work is beyond the scale of our core competencies.” ®


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