Over the last decade digital technology has spread into quick serve restaurants, typically in the form of digital menu boards. But only until recently have those stores been able to use digital technology to collect, analyze, and predict customer behavior. On this episode of Beyond Technology: The Experience Podcast by Acrelec, Côme Billerey, head of product innovation at Acrelec, shares how machine learning has come to your favorite restaurant.

“We are focusing on how can we improve the customer journey and improve operations thanks to AI,” Billerey said.

This means using machine learning to improve the speed of service, and possibly predict orders so restaurant managers know how to allocate resources to optimize efficiency.

The latest smart displays found in stores can collect data in real-time. With AI, the displays can learn the weather and forecast how many people will be in the store and what they’ll order. Billerey explained that these predictive capabilities have been used by websites like Amazon for some time, but only now are they available to brick and mortar stores.

Although the technology will never achieve 100% accurate trend forecasting, “in the past years we have reached, in certain fields, really great predictive capabilities of 95 to 97%,” Billerey said.

Billerey divulged that he worked with McDonalds in leveraging machine learning to time cars in a drive-thru lane. First using sensors in the road and then switching to cameras, he was able to predict bottlenecks so that the restaurants could reorganize staff for better service. The experience gave him a greater appreciation for the human eye which, working with the brain, is capable of visual processing and analysis that cameras and computers just can’t do.

“It should amaze people, or at least, it amazes me,” Billerey said.

Currently, he’s working with Intel to create more cost and energy effective solutions to process real-time data. And while AI is not hard to deploy at select sites, many startups have trouble doing so across a network. That’s where he says Acrelec is different.

“We know how to scale technology on many, many different locations,” Billerey said.

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