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  • Writer's pictureDanielle van Hout

Eye on AI - September 2nd, 2022

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, our focus turns to fast food AI as we look into new drive-thru tech implemented by Panera and how McDonald’s is using data and AI to optimize its supply chain.


New Drive-Thru and Delivery Tech Dominates AI News

From robots taking orders to new delivery robot testing, this week’s AI news was dominated by the restaurant industry. With so many stories to choose from, Panera’s testing of Tori drive-thru AI, as outlined in the article “Panera Bread tests artificial intelligence technology in drive-thru lanes,” stood out.

“At Panera, customers will interact with Tori when they pull up to the drive-thru speaker,” writes MSNBC contributor Amelia Lucas. “... The test will be used to evaluate if Tori should be expanded to more Panera restaurants… About 45% of Panera's more than 2,000 locations have drive-thru lanes.”

Tori, which was created by OpenCity, is a voice-ordering AI. Already the technology is being tested by more than two dozen restaurants, with Panera being perhaps the most notable food chain on that list. Initial tests will begin at two locations in upstate New York, the idea being to expand rapidly should the tests prove successful.

This move is the latest in a long list of fast food chain attempts to utilize AI to improve drive-thru efficiencies. Earlier this year, for example, Panera began testing Miso Robotics' CookRight Coffee system, which uses artificial intelligence to monitor coffee volume and temperature. It’s a race to be the most efficient chain. And thus far, it’s been a bumpy road to the top. McDonald’s began testing fast food AI orders last year, with initial tests showing the system was underperforming. Yet the fast food behemoth seems intent on pushing forward regardless with more testing and learning plans in the works. Why this move by Panera feels unique because, if successful, it could be the first major fast food chain to roll out AI drive-thrus at scale, which would give it a significant leg up over the competition.

How AI Helps McDonald’s Optimize Everything

Speaking of McDonald’s, the clear leader in fast food AI is constantly seeking to do more with its data – I look at McDonald’s as the Amazon of the fast food world, more AI company than fast food. According to the article “McDonald's Is Using AI and Data to Optimize Its Supply Chain,” they’re using AI to optimize more than just their drive-thrus.

“The globe-spanning fast-food chain recently announced its acquisition of Dynamic Yield - an Israel-based tech company that specializes in personalization software,” writes Future Supply Chain’s editorial staff. “McDonald's plans to deploy Dynamic Yield's solutions at all levels of its infrastructure - from customers to suppliers.”

The Dynamic Yield acquisition, which happened in 2019, is somewhat old news. McDonald’s had hoped the tech would improve drive-thru recommendations and encourage upsells. While the technology proved less impressive than expected in terms of recommendations, the recommendation data it collects in real-time could help improve supply chain issues by predicting when products will be out of stock and where surplus issues might be emerging before they happen, allowing the issues to be addressed before they become a problem.

How well McDonald’s is actually using their AI to do this remains a bit of a mystery. Last year, the fast food chain sold off parts of Dynamic Yield piecemeal to MasterCard, keeping on select technology to help improve recommendations. What is clear is that McDonald’s has fully dedicated itself to the use of AI and data to address company-wide efficiencies, and expects that dedication to help it continue to dominate the fast food industry in the years to come.

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