McDonald’s ends trial of order-taking chatbot at its drive-thrus

By our African Marketing Confederation News Team | 2024

Artificial intelligence project with technology company IBM has been running at multiple restaurant sites in the US. 

Fast-food company McDonald’s has made a surprise announcement that it is ending a trial of an AI-powered drive-thru ordering system that has been running since 2021. 

Photo: Mike Mozart via Flickr 

The project, in collaboration with technology business IBM, was operating at around 100 locations in the United States and will terminate by late July. It has an AI voice-responding chatbot to take customer orders as they enter the drive-thru. 


In a leaked internal McDonald’s memo to franchisees, USA Chief Restaurant Officer, Mason Smoot, says: “After a thoughtful review, McDonald’s has decided to end our current partnership with IBM on AOT (automated order taking) and the technology will be shut off in all restaurants currently testing it no later than July 26, 2024. 


The memo adds: “While there have been successes to date, we feel there is an opportunity to explore voice-ordering solutions more broadly.”  


Voice-ordering solution for drive-thru still being investigated 


In a subsequent media statement to the publication, Restaurant Business, a spokesperson for McDonald’s said the company would decide its plans for automated orders by the end of the year, but stressed that “a voice-ordering solution for drive-thru will be part of our restaurants’ future”. 


According to US reports, no specific reason has been given for ending the trial, but there have been viral videos and media coverage documenting when artificial intelligence drive-thru systems get orders wrong. 


“McDonald’s drive-thru AI failures circulated on TikTok last year after several videos purported to show the system adding erroneous items like butter packets or multiplying how many items were ordered,” The Guardian newspaper reports. 


The newspaper adds that fast-food chains have taken an immense interest in integrating generative AI into their systems in recent years. Yum Brands, which owns KFC, announced earlier this year that it was instituting an ‘AI-first mentality’ in its fast-food restaurants. 


“In addition to drive-thru orders, some companies have started to explore how generative AI could be used to develop digital chatbots on their apps or utilise image-recognition to determine wait times,” The Guardian says. 


You can watch a TikTok video here, called ‘Fighting with McDonald’s robot’. 

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    Dr Kin Kariisa

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    Dr. Kin Kariisa is an extraordinary force at the helm of Next Media Services, a conglomerate encompassing NBS TV, Nile Post, Sanyuka TV, Next Radio, Salam TV, Next Communication, Next Productions, and an array of other influential enterprises. His dynamic role as Chief Executive Officer exemplifies his unwavering commitment to shaping media, business, and community landscapes.
    With an esteemed academic journey, Dr. Kariisa’s accolades include an Honorary PhD in exemplary community service from the United Graduate College inTexas, an MBA from United States International University in Nairobi, Kenya, a Master’s degree in Computer Engineering from Huazong University in China, and a Bachelor’s degree in Statistics from Makerere University.
    Dr. Kariisa pursued PhD research in Computer Security and Identity Management at Security of Systems Group, Radboud University in Nijmegen, Netherlands. As a dynamic educator, he has shared his expertise as a lecturer of e-Government and Information Security at both Makerere University and Radboud University.

    Dr Kin did his PhD research in Computer Security and Identity Management at Security of Systems Group, Radbond University in Nigmegen, Netherlands. He previously served as a lecturer of e-Government and Information Security at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda and Radbond University in Netherlands.

    Dr Kin did his postgraduate courses in Strategic Business Management, Strategic Leadership Communication and Strategies for Leading Successful Change Initiatives at Harvard University, Boston USA.

    • Other current and previous roles played by Dr Kin Kariisa:
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    • Director of Eco Bank Uganda Limited, one of the largest banks in Africa
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