McDonald’s just bought a voice-recognition company for high-tech drive-throughs

By Steven Melendez

It might not be long before you can place a McDonald’s drive-through order by talking to a machine.

The burger chain announced Tuesday that it is acquiring a Bay Area voice-recognition startup called Apprente, with an eye toward using it to take orders at drive-through windows. The companies have already run demos at McDonald’s test restaurants, and McDonald’s says Apprente’s technology is aimed at handling “complex, multilingual, multi-accent and multi-item conversational ordering.”

McDonald’s has introduced a number of new ways to order food in recent years, including in-store touchscreen kiosks, smartphone apps, and integration with food delivery platforms such as Uber Eats.

Apprente employees will form a new Silicon Valley-based unit called McD Tech Labs that McDonald’s says it plans to expand over time. And as for the McDonald’s workers who currently have to decipher what customers say from their cars? McDonald’s claims all the new ordering technology is part of its efforts to “alleviate pressure on restaurant employees.”

This marks the third recent tech investment for McDonald’s. Earlier this year, the company bought Dynamic Yield, which customizes drive-through menus based on factors like weather and time of day. McDonald’s also invested in Plexure, a New Zealand company that makes some of its mobile apps.


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