IBM Taking The Wheel Of McDonald’s AI-Powered Drive-Thru Initiative

Multinational tech corporation IBM is striking up a strategic partnership with a surprising ally: fast food heavyweight McDonald’s. The prime directive of the collaboration is to bring AI and automation to the chain’s many drive-thrus, and to deliver the next phase of digital evolution to fast food restaurants everywhere. Now, roughly two years after McDonald’s purchased Apprente, IBM is acquiring the renamed McD Tech Labs to advance the development and implementation of new tech within the chain’s “Advancing the Arches” growth initiative. The upgraded R&D division will complement IBM's existing work to develop and deliver AI-driven customer care solutions with IBM Watson, the system that is driving business outcomes across industries.

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McDonald’s is already testing AI-enabled drive-thru kiosks at several locations in Chicago, where the company relocated its headquarters in 2021. The company’s “Automated Order-Taking” software, originally developed by Apprente and nurtured at McD Tech Labs, is designed to reduce wait times, improve the customer interface, and reorganize restaurant staffing. McDonald’s CEO Chris Kempczinski considers IBM the “ideal partner” for voice recognition and AI-powered customer care solutions. He also won’t rule out acquisitions like the purchase and spinout of Apprente/McD Tech Labs as future catalysts for the company’s digital transformation.