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This AI Voice Assistant Is Making The Future Of Drive Thrus Faster

With kiosks and mobile ordering already speeding up fast food restaurants, there’s been one area that’s still lagging: The drive-thru. On average, folks in these lines wait just under 4 minutes for their order, but that number is a slight increase up from years past.

One of the ways companies may begin to decrease that wait time in your car is with artificial intelligence, and some of the first tests of this technology are already underway.

Photo courtesy of Valyant AI

A spot you can find AI helping in drive-thrus today is at a location of Good Times Burgers & Frozen Custard in Denver, Colorado. They’ve teamed up with artificial intelligence firm Valyant AI to begin testing the usage of a voice assistant that interacts with customers and takes their orders.

The AI is programmed with a voice similar to Amazon’s “Alexa,” and can list customizable options as well as offer combo meals, upgrades, and changes to someone’s order. Once that exchange is completed, the program submits the order to the typical screen cooks in the kitchen look at when prepping meals.

In an interview with the Washington Post, Valyant chief executive Rob Carpenter claims that the AI voice assistant is not designed to take away jobs. Instead, it can help reduce long lines at the drive-thru while staffers focus on prepping food and getting those orders out. Wait times should cut down overall as a result.

 Photo courtesy of Valyant AI

So far, the Good Times location has seen some encouraging results with their AI drive-thru test. The voice assistant is currently handling 90 percent of all orders, after starting out just taking care of breakfast. On average, according to Carpenter, wait times are down 10 to 20%, with some cut by as much as half. The actual employees working alongside the AI assistant have enjoyed it so far, saying it reduces pressure and makes their jobs easier.

As for the customers interacting, Carpenter noted that several have already adapted to the AI thanks to interactions with Siri, Alexa, and Google Home in other environments. “Customers have slowed their speech and been more concise with the software,” he said, indicating that it’s a relationship between both customer and AI that will make it work at its best.

While time will tell exactly how prevalent software like this becomes, early signs are that artificial intelligence can make the lives of drive-thru employees and customers easier, without a need to cut jobs.

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Artificial Intelligence Could Change the Fast Food Industry In A Major Way

Artificial Intelligence (AI) isn’t quite as futuristic and distant as we might imagine. Truth be told, most of us use AI in our day-to-day lives.

If you ever ask Siri, Google Now or Cortana a question, you’re using AI. Even getting online customer support or browsing through your Netflix recommendations is considered an interaction with AI.

This technology doesn’t have to be a full-blown, out-of-a-sci-fi movie robot to be considered Artificial Intelligence  — but some of them are. And some of these bots have started infiltrating an industry that’s near and dear to my heart: fast food.

With today’s constant talk of robots taking jobs and the rapid advancements being made in the AI field, we can’t help but wonder: is Artificial Intelligence going to completely change fast food as we know it?

The answer, I think, is yes.

Now AI has been used in foodservice for years, mainly doing processing jobs that take place in factories. But in the past couple years specifically, we’ve started seeing more AI at actual franchises, taking on tasks that we would usually see human employees do.

In May 2016, KFC opened up a concept restaurant that is entirely run by robots called Original+. The innovative branch was opened in Shanghai, China and is run by a robot called “Dumi.” Although “Dumi” still has a hard time understanding different accents and dialects, it is smart enough to take and make orders for customers in a flash.

KFC isn’t the only chain to jump on the AI bandwagon. Domino’s Pizza in New Zealand announced in March 2016 that they would be incorporating artificial intelligence in its delivery service through a robot dubbed the “Robotic Unit” (DRU) that can self-drive up to 12.5 miles and store up to 10 pizzas.

The latest development for food industry AI has come from the West Coast burger chain, CaliBurger, which announced in March of this year that they’d be adding a new employee to their kitchen: Flippy, the burger-flipping robot designed to do the average tasks of a fry cook.

CaliBurger has vowed to invest in 50 Flippy robots which will be placed in CaliBurgers across the world within the next two years.

This announcement came just a few weeks before Taco Bell made a contradictory announcement, taking the stance that human interaction is what makes for a great food service experience.

“The caveat on technology is that tech is only as good as the experience that a team member creates, “ Taco Bell’s CEO, Brian Niccol, said while on a panel during Edelman’s Trust Barometer event. The Trust Barometer is a global summit that takes stock of institutions like business, government, NGOs, and media. “It’s an enabler for managers and team members to create a better experience.”


We’re not sure if that’s true for every experience (who hasn’t dealt with at least one miserable employee at a fast food window?), but we certainly get what Niccol means.

It may not happen overnight, but the data doesn’t lie. Companies like Citi have published thorough studies to examine the use of AI in the future, and have found that automation will threaten up to 47% of American jobs and 85% of jobs worldwide. In all fairness, the timeline of this takeover is not entirely clear — so it could be any number of years before things get this drastic.

But that doesn’t make the threat any less real.

Even President Obama spoke to this concern and how it will affect Americans in his final address:

“The next wave of economic dislocations won’t come from overseas,” he said. “It will come from the relentless pace of automation that makes a lot of good, middle-class jobs obsolete.”

Wikipedia, Five Guys

In the irony of ironies, another person who is predicting this decline in jobs is CEO of Yum Brands, Greg Creed. Creed said just a few weeks ago that most jobs now staffed by humans in the foodservice industry will be replaced by automation in 10-15 years, tops.

If you don’t know, Yum Brands owns Taco Bell, so we’re wondering if Creed and Brian Niccol see eye-to-eye on this one.

Although the demise of our daily jobs seems certain based on studies and opinions like these, there are some who are choosing to see the silver lining. The Harvard Business Review, for instance, believes that saying “robots are taking our jobs” and not acknowledging the jobs AI will create is foolish.

An excellent example that illustrates their point is the phenomenon that happened when ATMs were first rolled out in the US in the 1970s. Between 1995 and 2010, the number of ATMs increased from 100,000 to 400,000, effectively taking the jobs of hundreds of bank tellers.

However, to support these ATMs, many new bank branches opened across the country. As a result, these branches had to be staffed by people, which, as you may have guessed, ended up increasing jobs in the industry.

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Could a similar scenario play out in the foodservice industry? It’s not completely out of the question, although maybe less likely.

Say the high productivity of a robot fry cook like Flippy boosts CaliBurger sales through the roof, in turn making locations busier than ever. The chain may have to open up more locations, which would create new jobs for cashiers or managers.

But how long will it be until those jobs are taken by AI as well?

Unfortunately for foodservice employees, we’ll have to wait and see how the future unfolds. Thankfully for us consumers, we still get our Crunch Wrap Supreme either way — which is a serious comfort when staring into an uncertain future.

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In-N-Out Copycat CaliBurger Rolls Out First Burger Flipping Robot

It’s like a scene straight out of The Jetsons:  a robotic arm, gently flipping burger patties and turning buns with exact precision. Except only this time, it’s not a cartoon, it’s real life and it’s happening right now at a Pasadena-based burger chain called CaliBurger.

Enter FLIPPY, an artificially intelligent grill master that was developed by another Pasadena-based company, Miso Robotics and the CaliBurger’s parent company Cali Group. FLIPPY is a “robotic kitchen assistant” that works along side humans, and is now the newest CaliBurger team member, according to TechCrunch.

FLIPPY uses cameras to detect the different types of meat, along with cooking temperature and time, buns, and even the hands of a fellow coworker. Engadget reported that by using sensors it can use and “deep learning software to locate ingredients in a kitchen without needing to reconfigure existing equipment,” FLIPPY can alert humans when cooking tasks are completed so the toppings can be added to orders.

In a world dominated by mobile food delivery, the fast-food industry has already seen a big shift into automation — which restaurant owners can use as a profitable advantage — considering potential minimum wage rate increases and the aspect of more quick-serve restaurants transitioning to a more personal dining room service.

CaliBurger is already looking into the future of fast-food automation, but according to John Miller, Chairman of CaliGroup, FLIPPY won’t be replacing employees anytime soon.

“The application of artificial intelligence to robotic systems that work next to our employees in CaliBurger restaurants will allow us to make food faster, safer, and with fewer errors,” Miller told Nation’s Restaurant News.

For now, FLIPPY is under a probationary period at CaliBurger but the chain plans to roll out additional versions of Flippy to 50 CaliBurger locations in the next few years.

While it may not seem obvious at first, CaliBurger made headlines before. In 2012, the CaliBurger was sued by In-N-Out for, “trademark infringement and counterfeiting,” when it used similar imagery and the phrase, “Animal Style” on menus in a Shanghai location according to the Los Angeles Times.