Mastercard and SoundHound’s Voice Assistant Goes to White Castle
A voice assistant will take your order and process your payment at drive-thru restaurants thanks to a collaboration between Mastercard and voice AI developer SoundHound. Mastercard’s AI Powered Drive Through is integrating SoundHound’s Houndify platform into a handful of quick-service restaurants, enabling customers to order and pay for food at these drive-thru and drive-in restaurants with the same language they would use with a human server.
The new program is starting with a pilot program at White Castle drive-thrus in October after a prototype version was tested in a deal with Sonic Drive-In last year. For the White Castle customer, the process of ordering shouldn’t be very different, with the AI able to customize orders and adjust them midway through the request just as a human waiter would. Once finished, the AI will confirm what they have ordered before relaying the order to the cooks and accepting payment. The restaurants operating the program can use data on what people have bought from that location or a customer’s particular purchasing history to offer personalized menus that evolve over time too. Mastercard hinted in its announcement at much bigger plans for the technology soon, however, citing partners in the hospitality, sports, and entertainment industry.
“We are thrilled to be partnering with Mastercard as part of their retail initiatives to deliver this timely innovation for retail brands and the end consumer,” SoundHound vice president of business development Amir Arbabi said in a statement. “Consumers today believe voice ordering makes their experiences more convenient and less stressful, and we look forward to helping Mastercard deliver frictionless service, convenience, and customer safety.”
SoundHound and Mastercard aren’t the first to test voice AI at drive-thrus. Colorado-based startup Valyant AI incorporated a voice assistant into Good Times Burgers & Frozen Custard locations in Denver last year. Valyant AI started testing the system at the Good Burger in January, but only for breakfast. The success of that pilot led to the recent expansion to lunch and dinner a few weeks ago. The AI is capable of not only filling orders but making recommendations and even upselling to customers. McDonald’s started experimenting with voice technology around the same time, eventually buying a startup to bring the technology in-house.
The AI Powered Drive Through program is an aspect of Mastercard’s larger slate of new tech aimed at streamlining retail. For instance, its new Shop Anywhere platform allows customers to buy items in a store without having to wait in line, even letting them in the store when it would normally be closed if the store-owner chooses. Mastercard is testing the platform at Circle K and Dunkin’ locations, letting people purchase and walk out with food and drinks without speaking to a cashier. The Circle K pilot doesn’t include buying fuel, but with Exxon and Mobil stations enabling people to buy gas with Alexa and 7-Eleven’s new voice purchases through Siri, that may be just a matter of time.
And Mastercard has played with voice tech for a while in other ways, debuting its Priceless Experiences voice app last year for Alexa and Google Assistant-enabled smart speakers for booking unique experiences. Still, now may be a particularly good moment to introduce voice technology to restaurants as the ongoing COVID-19 health crisis is limiting in-person visits to restaurants and encouraging people to look for contactless options when making purchases.
“As retailers and consumers navigate through one of the most disruptive periods in modern history, it’s clear that traditional business operations will need to evolve quickly,” Mastercard senior vice president of retail innovation Stephane Wyper said. “We’re committed to supporting our retail partners and are excited about our partnership with SoundHound Inc. to voice-enable a broad range of services to enhance the physical shopping experience.”