In collaboration with Google, Wendy’s aims to develop an AI chatbot, named Wendy’s FreshAI, to facilitate customer orders at its drive-thru. As per a joint press release, the implementation of this technology is scheduled to commence at a Columbus, Ohio-based restaurant in June.
The AI has been labeled as a chatbot, however, it is reasonable to assume that its functions will differ from those of ChatGPT or Bing AI. Based on a report in The Wall Street Journal, it appears that customers will be able to communicate with the AI verbally, but will receive responses in the form of text displayed on a screen. Once an order is placed, it will be transmitted to a screen visible to the kitchen staff. Upon completion, the customer can drive forward to retrieve their meal. This is an innovative example of a chatbot being utilized in the real world, and it seems to have potential for success.
Google Cloud’s powerful generative AIs and large language models (LLMs) are the driving force behind Wendy’s FreshAI. Google has created several LLMs and other AI tools, such as GLaM, LaMDA, and PaLM, over the years. These models are trained on vast datasets and can comprehend intricate sentences and ideas while producing human-like text. LaMDA was previously utilized to power the Google Bard chatbot, but it has now been transferred to the latest and improved PaLM 2 model.
We recently moved Bard to PaLM 2, a much more capable model. #GoogleIO
— Google (@Google) May 10, 2023
Wendy’s has trained their LLMs on specific data, which is crucial. The press release suggests that there are billions of possible menu combinations due to customers’ ability to customize their orders. To avoid incorrect orders and miscommunications, the AI has been taught Wendy’s menu, including the distinct terms, phrases, and acronyms used by customers when ordering, such as “JBC” for junior bacon cheeseburger and “biggie bags” for various burger, chicken nugget, and soft drink combinations.
Even though Wendy’s officially refers to them as “Frosties,” customers can order milkshakes through the AI. Additionally, it has been taught to upsell customers by offering larger sizes and daily specials, as well as answer frequently asked questions.
In order to prevent Wendy’s FreshAI from producing meaningless responses or accepting orders for McNuggets, it has undergone training on the company’s established business protocols and has been provided with certain logical and conversational boundaries. Although it is capable of receiving orders, it is unlikely to be able to orchestrate global domination. Despite this, CEO Todd Penegor revealed to The WSJ that the AI will be highly conversational and customers will not be able to distinguish it from a human employee.
According to Wendy’s chief information officer Kevin Vasconi, based on the tests conducted so far, the AI employee seems to be quite efficient. It is believed to be at least as good as their top customer service representative, and may even perform better on average.
Wendy’s is optimistic about the AI’s ability to accelerate drive-thru orders, which make up 75-80% of their business. However, there are expected difficulties in achieving flawless functionality for the chatbot.
“You may think driving by and speaking into a drive-through is an easy problem for AI, but it’s actually one of the hardest,” Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian said to The WSJ. Some of the issues that the AI needs to address include the disturbance caused by music or kids in a car and the tendency of individuals to alter their orders midway.
Wendy’s is targeting to deploy the AI at a Columbus, Ohio store operated by the company next month, with the expectation that it will operate as intended. If the AI system proves successful, it could be introduced more extensively in the coming few months.