Wendy's is testing underground tunnels to deliver pickup orders, so you can skip the drive-thru
Wendy's is adding robots that deliver food in underground tunnels to one of its restaurants.
The system will bring pick-up orders to diners who pull up to kiosks outside the location.
Restaurants are adding technology, from AI to server robots, as they look for efficiency.
Underground tunnels are key to Wendy's latest experiment for pick-up orders.
The fast-food chain said Wednesday that it's partnering with Pipedream, a startup that builds robot-powered underground delivery systems, to use robots and tunnels to move Frostys and burgers from the kitchen to customers' cars. It will be the first time that a fast-food restaurant has used such a technique, according to Wendy's.
"Pipedream's Instant Pickup system has the potential to unlock greater mobile order speed of service and accuracy, enabling us to consistently deliver hot and fresh Wendy's products to our fans," said Deepak Ajmani, Wendy's US chief operations officer.
Wendy's plans to unveil Pipedream's technology at a store in the second half of 2023, a company spokesperson told Insider. "Wendy's is finalizing the site location to launch the technology integration after evaluating company-operated restaurants along the East Coast with high digital order volume," the spokesperson said.
Pipedream's technology relies on robots that move through underground tunnels to deliver goods. A user places items in a container on one end before it moves along tracks to its destination. The company markets its tech to retail stores, offices, and housing developments, according to its website.
"Someday we'll use teleportation, until then we'll use Pipedream," the startup's homepage reads.
At Wendy's, the tunnels will run from inside the restaurant to kiosks next to parking spaces, where customers will be able to retrieve orders that they've placed online, Wendy's said.
Pipedream's system includes temperature-controlled spaces for cold items like lemonade, the company spokesperson said. And fountain drinks spilling en route to customers shouldn't be a concern, either: "Wendy's product packaging will not change as all items remain upright and secured while traveling from the restaurant to the Instant Pickup portal," the spokesperson said.
Restaurants have been adding technology to their restaurants for years. Some chains have added server robots to their dining rooms, where they show patrons to their tables and deliver food. Chili's, for example, has rolled out Rita the Robot to about 60 of its roughly 1,200 locations in the US.
Wendy's is also experimenting with an AI chatbot that the company has trained to take orders at drive-thrus. McDonald's has experimented with its own voice-ordering automated system at a handful of stores with plans to roll it out broadly, though some research indicates that the technology isn't accurate enough for wide use.
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