- McDonald's agreed to acquire two-year-old Silicon Valley-based Apprente, an early stage, voice-based conversational technology company, the company announced Tuesday.
- The technology is expected to allow for faster, simpler and more accurate order taking at the drive-thru and could potentially weave into mobile ordering and kiosks.
- Apprente will serve as a founding member of the new McDonald's global technology team, McD Tech Labs. The fast food chain also expects to grow its presence in Silicon Valley by hiring more engineers, data scientists and other advanced technology experts to make up the new group, which will help meet future business needs and support deployment.
Technology is becoming an increasingly important investment for the fast food chain, especially since it can help improve drive-thru times and labor costs, two areas McDonald's has worked to improve.
The company previously said it was testing voice-activated drive-thrus and automated deep-fryers that cut down on labor in the kitchen.
With this latest acquisition, McDonald's is securing its place as a tech leader within the fast food space.
It previously bought Dynamic Yield for $300 million earlier this year and has since deployed the company’s decision technology at the drive-thru at 8,000 restaurants in the U.S. and plans to reach just about all drive-thrus in the U.S. and Australia by the end of the year.
It also invested $3.7 million in Plexure, a mobile app vendor, to improve its app.
Investing in technology infrastructure and digital capabilities is a key part of McDonald's growth plan, said Steve Easterbrook, president and CEO of McDonald's, in the announcement.
Artificial intelligence at the drive-thru has become a growing want among fast food chains due to the ability to save on labor costs, communicate with customers in multiple languages and speed up service times.
Companies including Valyant AI and 5Thru have been developing different levels of AI drive-thru technology. Valyant AI offers a similar product as Apprente, and has already been deployed at a Good Times Burgers & Frozen Custards in Denver, expanding is breakfast test to lunch and dinner earlier this year.
Sonic is also testing a voice-automated menu through a partnership with Mastercard and kiosk vendor ZIVELO.
Other restaurants have turned to technology as well. MOD Pizza has used cloud technology from day one. Panera has long invested in technology, becoming one of the first restaurant chains to use self-order kiosks. Domino's launched an Innovation Garage a few weeks ago to pilot new technologies.