It's likely that we all have a nightmare story related to fast food. A tremendous screw-up made with our order, a terrible interaction we've had with an employee (or a customer perhaps, if you've ever worked in fast food), maybe an awful time spent eating thanks to disruptive guests—we've all been there.
But what if technology evolved in such a way that you would never have to worry about any of that ever again? It looks like it might be headed that direction, with McDonald's first fully-automated location officially open for business.
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The Future Is Now
A McDonald's location in Fort Worth, Texas, is trying something very new for both the franchise and the restaurant industry as a whole; a completely automated fast food experience.
This will be the first McDonald's that's mostly run by robots instead of humans. No cashiers, no cooks, not even other patrons, as the latest location has no seating available whatsoever. It's made for those looking for a quick and easy dining experience, really emphasizing the 'fast' in fast food.
How Does It Work?
Customers order at digital tills, not unlike the large, touch-screened kiosks seen at many McDonald's locations already. Then, behind the scenes, a series of robot arms and belts receive the order, put all its elements together, then deliver to a grab-and-go window where customers can scoop it up and be on their way.
A TikTok showing off the location went viral late in 2022, sporting over 1.3 million views and containing thousands of comments where people either expressed their distaste or excitement at the possible future of fast food.
Wait, the location was described as "mostly" run by robots, right? What does that mean?
A McDonald's spokesperson spoke to The Guardian about the new location, clarifying that it "is not fully automated." That's right, there are still human employees back there, they're just hidden (and it's less clear what their actual roles are).
The spokesperson said that "enhanced technology" allows the team, be they robot or human, to "begin preparing customers' orders when they’re near the restaurant."
An Exciting Prospect...
Many see a bright future in tests like this. William Melek, the director of the RoboHub at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, believes this project is "one of the most exciting new application areas of robots we're seeing today."
He also believes that food-industry robots have indeed become good enough at handling repetitive tasks to begin replacing humans. He sees a future in which robots make up for the lack of workers in industries like fast food caused by labor shortages.
...Or A Disaster Waiting To Happen?
Others are less impressed, finding this creation to be nothing more than a mask for the human labor that continues to happen behind the scenes—labor that tech industries seem more bent on hiding.
It's an interesting experiment, that's for sure. An experiment whose future is still relatively unknown even if it does run successfully. Is the world ready for such an advanced system to begin taking over one of its largest chains? Are we closer to a purely-automated future than we previously thought? Only time will tell! Time spent in a strange uncertainty about robot integration into society, it seems...