McDonald's Puts Augmented Reality on Data Menu


Augmented reality is getting real, and it's coming to your world -- advanced analytics, that is.

Take a look at the augmented reality demonstration below. As you watch it, think not of sand and water, but of cars moving through the drive-through lanes at your local McDonald's. This essentially is what Rainer Dronzek, director of operations research at the fast-food icon, asked attendees to do at IE's Predictive Analytics Innovation Summit in Chicago last week.

McDonald's is studying how to use augmented reality as a teaching tool for restaurant owners and operators. "The idea is to provide an immersive experience for somebody thinking about making a change to the restaurant," Dronzek said during his presentation.

Any video gamers out there are probably quite familiar with augmented reality. Others have probably stumbled across it in one app or another in their Web travels. Nonetheless, I dug out this description from a good Educause piece on what you need to know about augmented reality.

The goal of augmented reality is to add information and meaning to a real object or place. Unlike virtual reality, augmented reality does not create a simulation of reality. Instead, it takes a real object or space as the foundation and incorporates technologies that add contextual data to deepen a person's understanding of the subject. For example, by superimposing imaging data from an MRI onto a patient's body, augmented reality can help a surgeon pinpoint a tumor that is to be removed. In this case, the technology used might include headgear worn by the surgeon combined with a computer interface that maps data to the person lying on the operating table. In other cases, augmented reality might add audio commentary, location data, historical context, or other forms of content that can make a user's experience of a thing or a place more meaningful.

Augmented reality plays into McDonald's vision of moving beyond static models for delivering insight for decision making, according to Dronzek, who works at the McDonald's Innovation Center. A primary focus at the center, which he called a "factory for inspiration and profound knowledge," is to find ways of improving the business. That's a given, right? So is the fact that analytics would play a role. At the center, his team conducts lab testing and video analysis, and it builds plenty of models.

With a projector and an imaging system on top of an augmented reality app, it's looking at how it might show owners and operators how traffic flow would improve by, for example, replacing a single drive-through window with side-by-side windows. Before their very eyes, owners and operators would be able to see how the cars would move quicker, which means they would serve more customers and increase their revenue.

This type of simulation would particularly help operations research deliver a message to younger folks, "who are used to communicating differently." In this case, it would be delivering a message about unmet demand. Static models used to predict how a change would impact performance aren't always good at conveying the information in a way that owners and operators can absorb. "Many are unable to grasp how much money they're losing if they're not optimizing their staffing and changing other ways they run a restaurant."

As operations research turns to sophisticated tools like augmented reality, it's always thinking about the end recipient. Creating tailored models and personalized tools hastens adoption, Dronzek said. The ultimate aim is to "instill a diagnostic mindset."

Do you have a favorite augmented reality example? Share below.

Beth Schultz, Editor in Chief

Beth Schultz has more than two decades of experience as an IT writer and editor.  Most recently, she brought her expertise to bear writing thought-provoking editorial and marketing materials on a variety of technology topics for leading IT publications and industry players.  Previously, she oversaw multimedia content development, writing and editing for special feature packages at Network World. In particular, she focused on advanced IT technology and its impact on business users and in so doing became a thought leader on the revolutionary changes remaking the corporate datacenter and enterprise IT architecture. Beth has a keen ability to identify business and technology trends, developing expertise through in-depth analysis and early adopter case studies. Over the years, she has earned more than a dozen national and regional editorial excellence awards for special issues from American Business Media, American Society of Business Press Editors, Folio.net, and others.

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Re: McDonald's and AR
  • 11/28/2012 12:04:57 PM
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Thanks, @SaneIT. That simple explanation really helped me understand the potential of AR, not just for fast food places (which I try not to frequent myself as well) but elsewhere.

Re: McDonald's and AR
  • 11/27/2012 7:37:45 AM
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Oh, I'm sure they "look" at things from the customer side but they can't see a solution at the same time.  I'm  saying that by using AR they could run the same number of customers though the space with various changes to see how the flow changes.  I'd venture to say that most franchise owners don't spend much time inside each store and they probably don't tend to go there at peak times.  Everyone inside the store at that time is focused on getting through the busy period and not spending time looking at how traffic could be re-routed.  As I said in another post, I don't frequent fast food restaurants but I've done things like take one step to the side of a register to wait for an order while the next person in line tried to squeeze up to the counter.   If there was an easier way for me to slip out and my food to find me that line would get shorter much quicker.

Re: McDonald's and AR
  • 11/26/2012 2:39:47 PM
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@SaneIT, it's amazing to me that fast-food places (and other retailers) haven't taken the customer-eye view of check-out lines already, using low-tech solutions such as security cameras, or even by planting spies into stores to report back. Surely they have. You don't need AR to know that check-out lines generally get clogged as soon as traffic gets picked up.

Re: McDonald's and AR
  • 11/26/2012 1:50:13 PM
NO RATINGS

@ SaneIT

Nice example. Usage of AR can not only be made at the planning and design stage but also as an advertisement tool for the houses or offices to be built. Clients will appreciate looking at the product as a physical object which would help them visualize and make the decision better. Atleast they can advise few improvements which they might not be able to view on the monitor screen.

Re: McDonald's and AR
  • 11/26/2012 7:36:37 AM
NO RATINGS

I don't spend much time inside fast food restaurants but when I do, I tend to notice really poor traffic flows.  I can see where using AR to stand back on the customer side of a counter and see how traffic stacks up and options to help clear out those bottlenecks would help builders sell changes to the basic 4 registers on one long counter.  Being able to model and visualize the changes would go much farther than a drawing.

Re: McDonald's and AR
  • 11/26/2012 7:13:44 AM
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For the construction industry this could be huge.  I know quite a few people in the field.  One does mainly commercial work and was just telling me about one nightmare recently.  The client has requirements that have to be within 1/8" in regard to locations of walls, electrical outlets, etc.  Well the electricians started off by more than that 1/8" and had to go back and move every receptacle that they had put in a big box store.  An AR solution where they could like up a couple marks and map everything out in the real space would have saved them a few days of work.

Re: McDonald's and AR
  • 11/25/2012 6:28:37 PM
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Wow, something to challenge the supremacy of CAD? I am no design professional but know plenty and have heard about CAD this and CAD that for years.

Re: McDonald's and AR
  • 11/24/2012 10:33:45 AM
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@ SaneIT

I like your point about the promise AR carries in the construction industry. Surely CAD is doing well but it is still inside the screen. AR can help architects better visualize the output and identify the weaknesses in the object which might not have been clear when the design was inside the monitor screen.

User involvement
  • 11/24/2012 10:27:55 AM
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I find augmented reality as a nice tool to explain the information by actual objects and in my opinion, the main benefit of AR is the involvement of the audience in the information as they are able to visualize better (than a video) as to what the actual output will look like.

Re: Playing in the sandbox
  • 11/23/2012 9:32:24 PM
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@Callmebob, that's a pretty amazing example. The blog you linked to describes AR as a "disruptive technology." A pretty heady compliment. Is it worthy?

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