McDonald’s announced on Tuesday that it was acquiring Apprente, a US-based, Israeli-founded startup which the food giant called “a leader in the field of conversational voice-based technology.”
The financial details of the acquisition were not disclosed but McDonald’s said in a statement that the agreement will give the company “first-mover advantage as we continue to build a better McDonald’s.”
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Founded in 2017 in Moutain View, California, Apprente developed an intelligent voice-based conversational agent system that delivers a human-level customer service experience.
Apprente said on its website announcing the agreement that order-taking for drive-thrus at Quick Service Restaurants (QSRs) “quickly emerged as a fantastic use-case for our proprietary AI technology.”
“We’ve spent the past couple of years tackling this challenging real-world task, and along the way, we developed novel machine learning and speech understanding technologies, culminating in an industry-leading, robust and scalable solution,” the startup wrote.
Apprente was set up by Itamar Arel and Moshe Looks. Arel is an AI researcher and entrepreneur who served as a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of Tennessee (2003-2013) and a visiting professor at Stanford University’s AI lab (2013-2015), according to Crunchbase. He has a PhD from Ben-Gurion University.
Looks formerly led the AI and software engineer teams at Google’s Machine Intelligence group. He has a degree in computer science from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a PhD in machine learning from Washington University.
Apprente employees are set to become part of McDonald’s Global Technology team and Arel and Looks will be the founding members of a new, integrated, internal group within McDonald’s Global Technology team called McD Tech Labs in Silicon Valley.
“This team will complement and provide synergies with the work being done at our newly renovated Innovation Center just outside of Chicago. And as our needs grow, so will this team – bringing new skillsets into McDonald’s as we build on our commitment to meet customers and crew on their terms,” McDonald’s said.
The fast-food giant explained that the initial focus of the Silicon Valley team would be to enhance technology for use in McDonald’s Drive-Thru but will also likely “reach customers when, where and how they want through incorporation into mobile ordering or kiosks.”
This latest deal follows McDonald’s acquisition in March of New York-based Israeli company Dynamic Yield, which developed customer personalization and decision logic technology, for a reported $300 million.
McDonald’s said these acquisitions and investment in advanced tech and talent teams, alongside the expansion of McDelivery and the development of McDonald’s Global Mobile App, Mobile Order and Pay, indoor and outdoor digital menu boards, and self-order kiosks, are part of key initiatives the company has introduced over the last three years “to improve both the restaurant employee and customer experience.”