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Tech-Over: KFC is Using Robot Arms to Serve Ice-Cream, Facial Recognition to Predict Orders in China

Taking the Artificial Intelligence push forward, traditional KFC outlets in China have got a techy makeover in order to meet the demands of fickle, tech-savvy Chinese customers.

Rakhi Bose | News18.com@theotherbose

Updated:March 24, 2019, 11:36 AM IST
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Tech-Over: KFC is Using Robot Arms to Serve Ice-Cream, Facial Recognition to Predict Orders in China
There are nearly 5,000 KFC outlets in China at present.

Tired of picking the same, boring meal from self-serving fast-food kiosks everyday? Head to a KFC joint in China and you'll find robot arms serving ice-cream and a customised menu that picks and chooses your options based on your special preferences.

Taking the Artificial Intelligence push forward, traditional KFC outlets in China have got a techy makeover, straight out of an episode of The Jetsons, in order to meet the demands of the fickle, tech-savvy Chinese customers.

As part of the tech-makeover, KFC outlets in China now use facial recognition technology to place orders and make payments. According to a report in Guardian, the facial recognition system was developed by KFC in collaboration with Baidu, China's biggest search engine, and is designed to predict customised menu options for customers based on their age, gender and mood. If customers do not like the options that the machine is giving them, they can look for alternate options. In effect, the facial-recognition system reduces the size of the menu and helps customers choose better and more quickly. They can then make cashless payments via mobile phone at the machine and collect the order form the counter.

Apart from facial recognition, KFC's in China also employ mechanical or robotic arms to serve ice-cream cones. It also allows customers o choose the music they want to listen to at the restaurant while eating using their mobile phones.

Kentucky Fried Chicken, which is operated by Yum China Holdings Inc., one of China's biggest fast-food chains. and the American burger chain's Chinese owner, which also handles the operations of US chains like Pizza Hut and Taco Bell in China, has been aggressively expanding to edge out competition from local as well as other American brands seeking to enter the Chinese fast-food market, Bloomberg reported.

Yum China has been adding 2 stores a day to its list of outlets across China and targets to achieve 10,000 outlets by 2021. With the the AI interventions, KFC hopes to woo customers in China, who are highly adaptable to tech-interventions and seem to prefer convenience and ease of chopping over privacy concerns.

In fact, the use of facial recognition has indeed triggered concerns of data privacy and data harvesting. Is it safe fast-food outlets to be storing customers' facial data and food preferences? Yum China intends to harvest data of customers belonging to KFC and Pizza Hut's loyalty programs in order to craft better customized menus.

So far, KFC has about 5,000 outlets in china and only a few hundred of them have experienced the tech-over. At present, it seems the AI interventions are intended more for publicity and direct appeal to customers. Yum China has maintained that it will not use user data for any purposes other than selling burgers and improving customers' satisfaction and dining experience. However, with growing data surveillance and even illegal sale of data in China, the new AI-operated KFC stores that collect user data may well be glimpse into an Orwellian future.

However, despite worries, KFC's tech-over move seems to be making waves on social media with many calling it the restaurant of the future.

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