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McDonald's Is Removing Its AI Drive-Thru Voice-Ordering System From Over 100 Restaurants After Its Mishaps Went Viral McDonald's began using AI technology at its restaurants as early as 2019.

By Lauren Edmonds

Key Takeaways

  • McDonald's is removing its Automated Order Taker technology from over 100 restaurants.
  • The fast-food chain collaborated with IBM in 2021 to develop and deploy the AI software.
  • Videos showing flaws with the technology at McDonald's drive-thrus went viral in 2023.
AP Photo/Seth Perlman via Business Insider

This article originally appeared on Business Insider.

The advent of generative AI was supposed to devastate jobs across industries, including restaurants.

Turns out it's not quite there yet.

McDonald's told franchise operators on Thursday that it is removing AI order-taking technology from over 100 drive-thrus, marking the end of a test period conducted with IBM.

A McDonald's spokesperson confirmed the decision to Business Insider in a statement, saying customers were introduced to the technology in 2021 when McDonald's entered a global partnership with IBM.

McDonald's Drive Thru Menu

McDonald's drive-thru menu. Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images via Business Insider

Under the partnership, IBM acquired McD Tech Labs, which McDonald's created after taking control of the AI speech company Apprente in 2019.

The two companies developed and deployed the technology during the test period to "determine if an automated voice ordering solution could simplify operations for crew and create a faster, improved experience for our fans."

McDonald's CEO Chris Kempczinski told CNBC in June 2021 that voice-recognition technology was accurate about 85% of the time, but human staff had to assist with about one in five orders.

But the AI's failures went viral online.

Videos of drive-thru customers struggling to use the Automated Order Taker first gained attention on TikTok last year. Some customers said that the technology messed up their orders, causing frustration and annoyance.

One video showed a woman attempting to order water and a cup of vanilla ice cream. The AI system accounted for those items but incorrectly added four ketchup packets and three butter packets to her order.

In another video, a TikTok user said she ordered one large cup of sweet iced tea, but the AI-powered technology added nine cups of iced sweet tea instead.

Although McDonald's partnership with IBM on Automated Order Taker has ended, the food company said it would continue to explore how technology can improve its workflow.

"As we move forward, our work with IBM has given us the confidence that a voice ordering solution for drive-thru will be part of our restaurants' future," McDonald's told BI in the statement. "We see tremendous opportunity in advancing our restaurant technology and will continue to evaluate long-term, scalable solutions that will help us make an informed decision on a future voice ordering solution by the end of the year."

IBM said it would continue to work with McDonald's on other projects.

"This technology is proven to have some of the most comprehensive capabilities in the industry, fast and accurate in some of the most demanding conditions," the company said in a statement. "While McDonald's is reevaluating and refining its plans for AOT, we look forward to continuing to work with them on a variety of other projects."

The statement added that "IBM also is now in discussions and pilots with several Quick-Serve Restaurant clients who are interested in the AOT technology."

McDonald's began using AI technology at its restaurants as early as 2019, according to the National Restaurant News. It installed 700 AI-powered menu boards that included an automated suggestive-selling feature.

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