Burgers, Fries and a Side of AI: Startup Offers Taste of Drive-Thru Convenience

A labor crunch has disrupted fast-food services, but AI from startup HuEx aims to bring back the drive-thru good times.
by Scott Martin

Eating into open hours and menus, a labor shortage has gobbled up fast-food services employees, but some restaurants are trying out a new staff member to bring back the drive-thru good times: AI.

Toronto startup HuEx is in pilot tests with a conversational AI assistant for drive-thrus to help support service at several popular Canadian chains.

Chronically understaffed, food services jobs have among the highest rate of employee departures, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

HuEx’s voice service — dubbed AiDA — is helping behind the drive-up window at popular fast-service chains across North America.

AiDA handles order requests from customers at the drive-thru speaker box. Driven by HuEx’s proprietary models running on the NVIDIA Jetson edge AI platform, AiDA transcribes the voice orders to text for staff members to see and serve. And it can reply with voice in response.

It can understand 300,000-plus product combinations. “Things like ‘coffee with milk, coffee with sugar’ are common, but some people even order coffee with butter — it can handle that, too,” said Anik Seth, founder and CEO of HuEx.

The company is a member of NVIDIA Inception, a program that offers go-to-market support, expertise and technology for AI, data science and HPC startups.

All in the Family

Seth is intimately familiar with fast-service restaurants. He is part of a family business operating multiple quick-service restaurant locations.

Noticing a common problem, he has seen team members and guests struggling during drive-thru interactions, something he aims to address.

“AiDA’s voice recognition technology is easily handled by the NVIDIA Jetson for real-time interactions, which helps smooth the ordering process,” he said.

Talk AI to Me

The technology, integrated with the existing drive-thru headset system, allows for team members to hear the orders and jump in if needed to assist.

AiDA, first deployed in 2018, has been used in “thousands of transactions” in implementations in Canada, said Seth.

The system promises to help improve service time by taking on the drive-thru while other team members focus on fulfilling orders. Its natural language processing system is capable of 90 percent accuracy when taking orders, he said.

As new menu items, specials and promotions are introduced, the database is updated constantly to answer questions about them.

“The team is always in the know,” Seth said. “The moment you order a coffee, the AI is taking the order, while simultaneously, there’s a team member fulfilling it.”

Image credit: Jonathan Borba via Unsplash.