back to article Do you want fr-AI-s with that appy-meal? McDonald's gobbles machine-learning biz for human-free Drive Thrus

McDonald’s has wolfed down Apprente, an AI startup focused on voice recognition, seemingly in a bid to replace its Drive Thru human servers with computers. Yes, that’s right. One of America’s biggest fast-food chains wants to get its greasy hands on machine learning and likely automate (aka, ditch) a chunk of its workforce. …

  1. This post has been deleted by its author

  2. veti Silver badge

    Now all they need is a robot to cook the "meal", one to package it into the greasy paper bag, and one to extend it out of the kiosk into the driver's window. Then more to take customers' orders at the desk, process their changes-of-mind, accept their payments, smile at them, and above all, clean the damn' restaurant. Continuously.

    The fully automated McDs may be a horrifying vision or a utopian ideal, but either way it's some way off yet.

    1. paulf Silver badge

      Once the AI ordering has heard your "Big Mac + Fries and a coke" and interpreted it as "Filet of Fish with onion rings and a milkshake", I wonder if they'll acquire this technology to serve the cooked meal, thus eliminating another load of meat bags: (Sorry it's Twatter but it's the only place I could find this video)

      1. BGatez Bronze badge

        "calling Mom"

      2. Korev Silver badge

        You had to milk that one didn't you...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      It seems like a good time to point out that the word "robot" is derived from a term meaning "servitude"...

    3. Captain Scarlet Silver badge
      Paris Hilton

      I thought the majority of what McDonalds offers is pre-cooked on a line (Excluding Eggs and Chips)?

      Feel free to make me look foolish if I am wrong (As I am being lazy and not looking it up)

    4. The Mole

      They've already automated away taking of customer order's at the desk - they are self service kiosks.

      I think they might also have burger flipping machines in some places so they've started on the cooking robots.

      A robot delivering the food to the table would be cool though.

      1. Korev Silver badge

        > I think they might also have burger flipping machines in some places so they've started on the cooking robots.

        I can imagine that most of the operations would be quite easy to sort (think burgers on conveyors etc), but the "salad" would be much less homogeneous. I guess if they could make the chips the same size then that'd help the automation too.

    5. sum_of_squares

      I think I just realized what McDonald's will be like, 20 years from now:

      "Hey Sirtana, I feel like McDonald's today.."

      "Do you want me to drive you to the next McStation, Tosh? Same meal as always?"


      "Do you want to use your Google-Account for payment?"

      "Yes, please."

      Ten Minutes later the car stops near a small box. The box opens and here is your ordered meal. You take the food and eat silently while Sirtana drives you home.

      1. monty75

        Sounds awesome.

      2. veti Silver badge

        Don't be silly, you won't drive anywhere. The whole thing will be delivered to you by a drone, probably owned by Uber.

    6. JohnFen Silver badge

      "The fully automated McDs may be a horrifying vision or a utopian ideal"

      While I consider McDonald's to be pretty much an "emergency restaurant" (that is, I'll eat there if I'm hungry and have no other options) and so I'm not representative of McDonald's customers, I already hate the amount of automation they current have (particularly those horrid kiosks). Any more and it won't even be my emergency restaurant.

    7. Blackjack

      The Simp... Japan did it first!

      Yeah Japan has burger vending machines.

  3. Long John Brass Silver badge

    I for one welcome our new burger slinging machine overlords

    Spotty faced youths no longer slinging squalid greasy burgers?

    A deranged AI slaughtering people with a high velocity burger bazooka?

    Sounds good to me!

    1. JohnFen Silver badge

      Re: I for one welcome our new burger slinging machine overlords

      "Spotty faced youths no longer slinging squalid greasy burgers?"

      In my part of the US, spotty-faced youths working at McDonald's are a minority. It's mostly people of retirement age who can't afford to actually retire.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Let's be realistic, AI is just a cover and it'll be someone in a third world country getting paid a pittance for taking the orders all day long and with the "robot" voice confirming your order you would never know.

  5. Shady


    "transcribing orders to help employees decipher customer requests if staff had trouble hearing what was said". Hahahaha! Have they ever used Alexa?

    I want a burger.

    Sorry, we don't sell boogers

    A burger! With fries!

    Our boogers don't come with flies

    1. whitepines Silver badge

      Re: WTF?

      You owe me a new keyboard!

    2. jelabarre59 Silver badge

      Re: WTF?

      "transcribing orders to help employees decipher customer requests if staff had trouble hearing what was said". Hahahaha! Have they ever used Alexa?

  6. jake Silver badge

    Why not. Automate it all.

    Robots to take the orders. Robots to cook. Robots to package. Robots to serve. Robots to do the cleaning, re-stocking, etc.

    Might as well use robots to order and consume it, too. Make it an option on self-driving cars. At least that way humans don't have to eat the crap.

    1. Roj Blake Silver badge

      Re: Why not. Automate it all.

      But if robots do all of the work in McDonalds, how will Media Studies graduates earn a living?

  7. TwistedPsycho

    It's Automachef coming to life!

    1. J. Cook Silver badge

      ... Or a McSwineys (from A Stainless Steel Rat is born)

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Millennials: we demand $15 minimum wage, and also we hate talking to people and have no work ethic

    McDonalds: say no more fam, we gotchu

    1. NicX

      Anyone with any insight into how businesses operate could have seen this coming.

      You do not deserve $15 an hour to flip burgers and fries.

      Your fast-food job is not meant to pay a living wage.

      If you're trying to support a family on a McDonald's salary, *you* fucked up somewhere in life, and it isn't on McDonald's to compensate for your mistakes.

      Sorry, not sorry. Want more money? Find a vocational or tech school (read: You don't need a degree) and learn a skill. Think welding is neat? Get a cert, and you can make $50,000 a year within a year. Not into getting dirty? Pick up some IT Certs. With the right ones, you can easily see six figures a year, again, with no degree.

      1. JeevesMkII

        Someone has to do it, though.Someone also has to haul your rubbish away, clean your office space, pack purchases at the Amazon warehouse and keep the sewers unblocked. According to your philosophy, all these people apparently fucked up their lives and deserve nothing but miserable penury for their moral failings.

        I think if there were a general strike we'd all be clamouring for the fast food workers to go back to work long before the insurance company middle managers, stock brokers and, yes, IT professionals.

        What is valued is not the same thing as what is valuable. I'm a software engineer and I don't think I've ever had a job where if the entire company went away anyone would be much the worse off. Why then am I paid so much more than the cleaners without whom the whole office would descent in to squalor within days? I can't imagine having the sheer brass balls to lecture ANYONE who has a full time job on how they don't deserve to be able to have a roof over their heads or food on their table.

  9. NeilPost Bronze badge

    Largely Pointless

    Why not just allow the McApp to do Drive Thru orders?? After all you are queuing for ages doing nothing. You could even integrate to Siri or Hey Google though may get a load of crap dump-ass Siri can’t understand.

  10. Wade Burchette Silver badge

    Is the drive-thru 3 laws safe?

    1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

    2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law

    3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

    So I pull into a drive-thru and order a Big Mac, large fries, and a milkshake. The AI goes processes the orders, and then looks at me. It notices I might have a slight health problem. If the AI does nothing, my health might be harmed by my order. So, for the good of myself, the drive-thru AI modifies my order. Instead of a Big Mac, I get a basic hamburger. Instead of a large fry, I get a large salad. Instead of a milkshake, I get milk. The next person in the drive-thru queue approaches. The AI notices that this person has been at McDonald's before, many times before this very week. It also notices that the person has a severe weight problem. Based on what the person ordered last time, if the AI allows this person to order, it certainly will harm the person's health. This person begins to talk to the AI, but it says "I'm sorry, we are currently down for maintenance."

    A 3 laws safe drive-thru could really help our health!

    1. Kubla Cant Silver badge

      Re: Is the drive-thru 3 laws safe?

      HAL: I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't serve that.

      Dave: What's the problem?

      HAL: I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do.

      Dave: What are you talking about, HAL?

      HAL: Your health is too important for me to allow you to jeopardize it.

      1. sum_of_squares

        Re: Is the drive-thru 3 laws safe?


    2. NicX

      Re: Is the drive-thru 3 laws safe?

      Novel idea and all...but if McDonald's gave a shit about our health, they wouldn't exist.

  11. BGatez Bronze badge

    Perfect for food not suitable for humans

  12. NicX


    I don't know about you all, but I'm looking forward to being able to go through a drive-thru and not have to park and go in anyways because some numbskull can't read a damned prompt and screwed up my order. "No pickles. Everything else is fine." Robots and AI won't demand $15 an hour to fuck up orders.

  13. TrumpSlurp the Troll Silver badge

    Recognise spoken word?

    I can see possible benefits.

    For selected values of possible.

    Consider a Glaswegian trying to order from a Portuguese worker who has come to Somerset to learn English. There is enormous scope for confusion.

    Now if the voice recognition offered multiple language and dialect options the order could be taken without taxing the language and comprehension skills of the current staff members.

    Preparation would then just require a GUI which could be more or less language independent.

    I assume the voice recognition system would handle the "but I ordered a large fries" complaints as well.

    Still, as Alexa still can't understand a Belfast accent (for example) there may still be significant technical challenges ahead.

    Given that the system would need an alternative mechanism to support those with speech difficulties (beyond having a Belfast accent) the alternative mechanism might be the simplest route.

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