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McDonald’s Buys Startup to Add Automated Drive-Thru Ordering

Date Updated: June 23, 2021

McDonald’s Corp. is making a bet it can automate the task of taking drive-thru orders.

The world’s biggest restaurant company is buying startup Apprente Inc., a developer of voice-recognition technology for use in the restaurant industry, to help speed up lines. The idea is to eventually have a machine, instead of a person, on the other side of the intercom to relay orders to kitchen staff. In Chicago-area restaurants where the system is already being tested, employees still oversee drive-thru order-taking and can step in when needed.

The acquisition is McDonald’s third tech deal in the past six months, and fits into the company’s push to lean more heavily on machines and artificial intelligence to boost sales. McDonald’s is also using Apprente’s headquarters in Mountain View, California — also home to Google owner Alphabet Inc. — to start a tech lab, with plans to add employees there.