Restaurant Scene: A ‘robotic’ experience at the drive-thru | Food and Cooking

During a recent late night journey home from a concert, I had a taste for something sweet.

Spying the Golden Arches ahead as I drove down Columbus Drive in East Chicago, I decided to stop for a caramel sundae.

There were only a couple of cars in line at the drive-thru so I pulled right into the line and waited for the attendant to ask what I wanted. As I waited, all of a sudden a robotic sounding voice came over the speaker and asked if I wanted cream with my coffee and if that completed my order.

What? I looked at the screen and an order for coffee was listed. So, I started shouting “agent, agent” just as I do during business telephone calls when you’re dealing with an automated system gone awry.

After a minute, a friendly “human” voice came on and asked what I wanted to order. I explained the situation telling him that I didn’t order coffee and that order was all wrong.

He nicely took my order and I pulled around. When I got to the window, I asked “You have robots now?” The employee said the robotic system had only been at McDonald’s for about a week.

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I said, laughing, that it wasn’t working. He said “It’s learning,” with a chuckle.

When I pulled away, I thought “Wow, there are really more Jetsons’-like experiences in the world now.”

The artificial intelligence system at the drive-thru debuted last summer at 10 Chicagoland McDonald’s as a test program according to press releases from the company. At the end of 2021 McDonald’s partnered with IBM to offer an enhanced robotic system. While the system was tested first in Chicago, it’s now being tested in other places, including Northwest Indiana.

So, as time goes on, the next time you have a taste for a burger and fries, you may be asking for a robot for your meal. Spage-age indeed!

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