McDonald’s Buys AI Company to Automate Drive-Thru Ordering

Apprente’s voice-based technology should help speed and simplify the fast-food chain’s order taking.
Lauren MuskettSeptember 10, 2019

McDonald’s reached an agreement to buy artificial intelligence company Apprente, a Silicon Valley start-up specializing in voice-based ordering technology. The technology can understand multiple languages and accents to help speed and simplify order taking at the drive-thru.

“Building our technology infrastructure and digital capabilities are fundamental to our Velocity Growth Plan and enable us to meet rising expectations from our customers, while making it simpler and even more enjoyable for crew members to serve guests,” McDonald’s president and chief executive officer Steve Easterbook said in a statement.

Apprente’s technology could someday be used in McDonald’s self-order kiosks and mobile ordering, the company said. On a recent earnings call with analysts, Easterbrook said the kiosks have been generating higher average checks in the United States.

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Employees of Apprente will be the founding members of McDonald’s McD Tech Labs group with in the company’s global technology team.

Founded in 2017, Apprente had reportedly raised $4.8 million prior to the acquisition from investors including Greylock Partners, AME Cloud Ventures, Morado Ventures, Point72 Ventures, and Pathbreaker Ventures. The companies did not disclose the financial terms of the deal.

This is the third tech-focused deal this year for McDonald’s as the fast-food company tries to automate its drive-thru and order taking.

In March, McDonald’s acquired Dynamic Yield for a reported $300 million, its largest deal in two decades. Dynamic Yield, which specializes in personalization and decision logic technology, would be used to tailor the drive-thru menu in response to changes in weather, current menu traffic, and popular items.

McDonald’s said that by the end of 2019 it wants to integrate Dynamic Yield’s technology into almost all U.S. and Australian drive-thrus.

In April, the company bought a 9.9% stake in New Zealand-based Plexure, a mobile app vendor, in a deal that was reportedly worth $5 million. Plexure is used in a version of McDonald’s Global Mobile App in 48 countries outside the U.S.

McDonald’s stock is up 22% this year. The company has a market value of $167 billion.