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McDonald’s makes another big investment in tech innovation

The fast-food giant is acquiring a voice-based tech startup and planting a stake in Silicon Valley.

McDonald’s has entered an agreement to purchase Apprente, a Silicon Valley-based conversational voice-based technology startup, for an undisclosed sum. The retailer says it will use Apprente’s solution to enable “faster, simpler and more accurate” drive-thru ordering.

This acquisition follows McDonald’s March 2019 purchase of Israeli startup Dynamic Yield, whose technology will enable the retailer to vary its outdoor menu displays to show food tailored to such factors as time of day, weather, current restaurant traffic and trending menu items. It will also allow the chain to instantly suggest and display additional items to customers based on their current selections. McDonald’s has also recently developed customer-facing solutions such as its global mobile app, mobile order and pay, indoor and outdoor digital menu boards and self-order kiosks.

However, McDonald’s holds tech aspirations far greater than optimizing the drive-thru experience. The Apprente team, which McDonald’s says includes employees with PhDs in machine learning and computational linguistics, will form a new, internal, integrated team called McD Tech Labs. This team, which will be based in Silicon Valley, is designed to complement and provide synergies with the work being done at the company’s newly-renovated innovation center located in the Chicago area.

While the initial focus of the Silicon Valley team will be to enhance technology for use in the drive-thru, McDonald’s believes that the broader voice-based technology can also be incorporated into mobile ordering or kiosks.

“It is our mission to embody a culture of innovation,” McDonald’s says in a statement on its website announcing the Apprente deal. “With this move, we’re investing in the talent and technology that will ultimately make our customer and restaurant employee experience better. As we all know, technology can change by the day. And with that, so do our customers’ expectations. We are committed to delivering the best possible experience for restaurant crew and our customers. And this is only the beginning...”
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