McDonald's automated drive-thru is just the latest sign of robots taking over fast-food

Fast-food's biggest players are letting the robots right in through the front door as they seek out ways to overcome rising wages and worker shortages. 

McDonald's CEO Chris Kempczinski disclosed at a recent Wall Street conference the company is testing automated voice ordering for its drive-thru. The tests are being conducted at about 10 locations in McDonald's backyard of Chicago, IL.

"We have over the last several years spent a lot of money that shows up in the G&A line, looking at better ways to automate the kitchen," Kempczinski said. "And this is could we do automated fryers, could you do automated grills. I mean let's push the envelope on how you can go with automation." 

The Golden Arches isn't alone in welcoming the robots.

Here are four other big fast-food chains that are testing creative, tech-driven ways to get you that burger, taco, pizza or chicken sandwich even quicker.

Domino's Pizza

The pizza giant said in April it struck a deal with self-driving delivery company Nuro. The deal saw the launch of autonomous pizza delivery (via the machine pictured above) in Houston. Select customers in the city who place an order on Domino's website can choose to have their pizza delivery by Nuro's R2 robot.

Domino's has been promoting its Nuro test aggressively in its latest round of TV advertising. 

The robot is the first autonomous on-road delivery vehicle with a regulatory approval by the U.S. Department of Transportation, Domino's points out.

Looks like a quick easy way to get a pizza without having to interact with a delivery driver. Or maybe soon a burrito, too. Also in April, Chipotle disclosed it invested in Nuro.

Taco Bell

Taco Bell opened a tech-forward new location in New York City's Times Square in late April. And this Taco Bell is built mostly for one thing only: Get your food super quickly and get back out into the party scene.

Take note of all the touch screens for food and drinks in the image above. There will likely be minimal interaction with an employee (as they are in the back making the food, not taking orders).

Chick-fil-A

The chicken sandwich maker is dabbling in autonomous delivery as well alongside Domino's and Chipotle.

Four years ago, Kiwibot embarked on a journey to reimagine the future of the last-mile delivery, today we are proud to show you our new Kiwibot 4.0.

Today, we reveal our robot to the world.#KiwibotKeynote#Kiwibot4#Kiwibotpic.twitter.com/6QHM7lDkMQ

— Kiwibot (@gokiwibot) April 13, 2021

Chick-fil-A is testing robot delivery in California via a new tie-up with robotics outfit Kiwibot, Restaurant Business reports. Three Chick-fil-A locations around Santa Monica are making available delivery with Kiwibot's four-wheeled semi-autonomous rovers (like those seen above).

An executive at Kiwibot told Restaurant Business a delivery would take 30 minutes and cost $1.99.

White Castle

White Castle was among the first in the fast-food industry to begin testing robots in any interesting capacity, launching a robotic fry cook test at one location in July 2020 (see below) with Miso Robotics. The robot's name: Flippy.

This morning, White Castle announced that it has started testing a robot called Flippy at the fry station.

But the restaurant industry has a troubled history with robotics and automated tech: https://t.co/s2a8puPAuBpic.twitter.com/C4cL2XyiKc

— Adweek (@Adweek) July 14, 2020

In October 2020, White Castle expanded its partnership with Miso Robotics to 10 locations, Yahoo Finance sister publication TechCrunch reported.

Brian Sozzi is an editor-at-large and anchor at Yahoo Finance. Follow Sozzi on Twitter @BrianSozzi and on LinkedIn.

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