White Castle, yes of Harold and Kumar fame, wants to roll out AI-enabled voices to over 100 drive-thrus by 2024 in the hope that people can get their sliders faster with maybe less arguing with someone over speakers.
Working with speech recognition company SoundHound for the technology, White Castle will have an AI voice on its speakers interacting with customers and figuring out what the orders are. The companies promise it will process orders in just over a minute.
If you’ve been at a drive-thru recently, you would know that the menu board and speakers are now big and fancy. But you also know that it still involves yelling from the driver’s seat, barking out orders, and an employee often mishearing words.
White Castle’s AI-enabled drive-thru looks exactly the same as the normal, human behind-the-mic experience, but with the screen telling customers they will soon interact with a voice assistant and displaying helpful phrases like “I need more time!” And well, voice-powered AI is still learning the best way to process different accents. SoundHound tells The Verge customers still have the option to speak to a human employee on location if the AI drive-thru gets orders incorrect or doesn’t complete.
SoundHound and White Castle already worked together for a proof of concept with fewer locations participating. The Wall Street Journal reported in June customers have mixed reactions to the AI drive-thru, with some expressing frustration and others relief they don’t have to talk to cranky employees.
The company did not share which White Castle restaurants will feature the AI drive-thru, but a representative confirmed the technology is live in some places in the Midwest region. White Castle said that adding AI drive-thrus is not expected to result in layoffs.
Other burger joints want to bring AI to their own drive-thrus, a space that truly tests the fast food workers’ hearing skills and the patience of a driver who wants fries. Wendy’s and Google announced plans to begin testing AI-powered drive-thrus in June.
SoundHound said its AI is fully end-to-end, without a human helping it get orders correct. Google’s work with Wendy’s has a human employee monitoring the AI drive-thru.
It will be interesting to see whether AI-powered drive-thrus are faster and how much the AI can block out crying kids and drunk friends in the backseat.