• John Ennis

Eye on AI - April 23rd, 2021

Welcome to Aigora's "Eye on AI" series, where we round up exciting news at the intersection of consumer science and artificial intelligence!

This week, we’ll be looking at a few not-so-subtle ways fast food service AI is being integrated into our daily lives (whether you eat fast food or not), including recent stories about Dominos’ new autonomous delivery service and the expansion of Taco Bell’s contactless cantina.


Enjoy!


Fast Food Continues It’s Contactless Transition


It’s not new news that fast food has been capitalizing on the need for more contactless services spurred by the pandemic by transitioning more into contactless offerings. More often than not, these transitions go unnoticed: smarter delivery offerings, better apps, contactless kiosks popping up next to the usual checkout lines, etc. But recent moves by Dominoes and Taco Bell demonstrate a more deliberate shift is beginning to take place, one that may soon render the fast-food world unrecognizable.


One such transition is autonomous delivery. According to The Spoon, Dominos, in partnership with the autonomous vehicle company Nero, launched its first autonomous pizza delivery service in Houston last week. And while some autonomous cars might pass unnoticed on the roads, Dominos’ autonomous vehicle, which they’re calling the R2, is hard to miss.


“The R2 is a low-speed, pod-like vehicle that’s about half the size of a regular car and completely autonomous,” writes Jennifer Marston of The Spoon. “(There isn’t even room for a human being to sit in the vehicle.) Nuro got Federal permission in February of 2020 to start driving the R2 on public roads. In April of 2020, the state of California also gave Nuro the thumbs up to drive on its public roads.”

While Dominos has been working toward autonomous deliveries since 2019, the Houston launch marks its first foray into fully autonomous delivery. Currently, R2 deliveries are only being offered in the Woodland Heights neighborhood of Houston. Customers can opt-in for R2 deliveries and have the mini mobiles text them upon arrival, then gain access to their order using a unique PIN number.


This is a pilot program to be sure, with Dominos noting that it will be carefully monitoring the R2’s impact on operations and customer relationships. But with federal approval secured and other fast-food companies like Chipotle already invested in Nero, it seems more likely than not this is an indication of things to come.


Taco Bell’s Contactless Cantina Has Futuristic Appeal



While the R2 and similar autonomous delivery vehicles may soon alter our roads, fast food stores are also beginning a more complete AI transition. One obvious example of this is Taco Bell’s newest contactless cantina in Times Square, which comes complete with digital-only ordering kiosks, tech-savvy booths, and a new futuristic design (there’s even a 3D tour on the website).


“It’s been a New York minute since Taco Bell® expanded in New York City , but now the brand is making its presence known with a new Cantina in the heart of Times Square,” reads the press release. “Built with the energy and on-the-go vibrance of the city in mind, the newest restaurant embraces technology in a whole new way to serve the demands of New Yorkers.”

The cantina is unique in that it’s one of the first completely re-designed fast food locations that offers multiple AI-enabled services. Menus are available exclusively on the kiosks or online (no giant menus overhead), customers can order ahead then pick up orders through a separate double-door entrance (skipping the restaurant experience entirely), the kitchen is open, the colors vibrant, with each booth equipped with power outlets.


The Times Square location is one of twenty Taco Bell cantinas now operating in New York. It’s perhaps the ideal companion to a crowded, tech-heavy city where people are constantly on the go, and is a gold mine for data collection: using AI, Taco Bell can use the data entered into the kiosks to optimize things like menu offerings, marketing, and promotions, and supply chain efficiencies.


While autonomous vehicles and contactless AI-driven store locations are good for business and customer convenience, they do pose a threat to the struggling blue-collar workforce that relies on the fast-food jobs AI is replacing. That’s a conversation for another time. For now, keep your eyes open for more obvious fast food transitions into AI as more companies follow suit.



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