License plate recognition could be the new big thing at American drive-thrus, according to FT. Chains are now looking to deploy cameras that recognize license plates and help identify customers, personalizing digital menus and speeding up sales.
Starbucks began a pilot program in Korea last year with customers who voluntarily pre-registered their cars and now restaurants in the United States are looking to also give it a try. License plate recognition has existed since the 1970s but has mostly been associated with law-enforcement. Cameras attached to police cars or street fixtures read the license plates of passing vehicles and compare results to databases.
But as the cost of the software comes down, uses for LPR have grown. For retailers, LPR can help identify repeat customers, allowing businesses to link a customer's credit card and order history up to a vehicle.
Customers who are signed up to loyalty programs or apps can load their information in voluntarily and cameras in the drive-thru lanes can also take photos of car plates. Software will then determine whether or not it belongs to a recurring customer that the restaurant has information for.
LPR start up 5Thru said that several chains in the U.S. and Canada were trying out its technology. It is expected to sign its first major contract by the end of the year.
Chief executive Daniel McCann said:
"5Thru’s technology helped restaurants process around an extra 30 cars a day, by reducing order time. The artificial intelligence-driven system also improves upselling by recommending items based on a customer’s past orders, the weather and how busy a store’s kitchen is."
Tracking customers using cameras is just another way stores are seeking to become more efficient in the age of online shopping. Recall, we posted a couple months ago a story about how are malls were tracking people's locations using their smartphones in order to help bolster business.
In March, McDonald's bought a company called Dynamic Yield for $300 million that specialized in "decision logic" to help make food and upselling suggestions to drive-thru customers. Drivers are given options based on the time of day, the weather and their eating preference history. In 2017, KFC partnered with Baidu to develop facial recognition to predict someone’s order based on their age and their mood.
AT&T has reportedly received numerous requests from fast food chains looking to deploy these types of technologies via its 5G network. Michael Colaneri, vice-president of retail and restaurants at AT&T said: “We are at the advent of these capabilities, though nobody has quite pulled it all off.”
In addition to technical expertise, data driven personalization relies on information about customers. Many have criticized license plate recognition for being overly invasive and the United States has a litany of different rules, depending on the state, governing the technology.
Jason Spielfogel, director of product management at security company Identiv said:
"Although no drive-through chains in the US have yet rolled out LPR at scale, there are a lot of conversations going on.”
LPR can also take into account a vehicle's age, make and condition to help recommend orders. McDonald’s has said, post acquisition, that the company could use LPR in the future to personalize smart menus. Xerox filed a patent in 2012 for a drive-thru tool to help track repeat customers using "vehicle and facial information". The company hasn't advertised that product, but Xerox offers LPR services and passenger detection tools to police. The system uses cameras to identify a vehicle and how many people are in it, while claiming to redact facial images for privacy purposes.