A new tech company says monitoring fast-food workers with AI will make orders more accurate

A McDonald's employee working in the kitchen.
A McDonald’s employee working in the kitchen. Hannelore Foerster/Getty Images
  • Tech company Agot AI is developing surveillance technology for fast-food workers.
  • It uses cameras to monitor workers and flag mistakes.
  • Worker surveillance has grown across industries in the last year.

Agot AI, a computer vision startup based out of Pittsburgh, says it can revolutionize fast food by making orders more accurate.

Agot’s model works by installing cameras in fast food kitchens, where they can monitor workers to make sure orders are made correctly and determine where more training is needed, cofounder and CEO Evan DeSantola told Insider. For example, if an employee is preparing a hamburger and forgets mayonnaise, the technology would flag the missing ingredient to the worker before it goes out to the customer and trigger an extra check, DeSantola told Insider.

The surveillance technology built by Agot isn’t just about correcting mistakes, DeSantola said. At a time when retail and fast food in particular are struggling to hire and retain workers, Agot’s computer vision could be used to reward a worker for a day free of mistakes, possibly with a bonus. It could also flag larger problems, like determining if employees are burnt out and overworked, or if a certain area of operations needs better training after consistent mistakes.

While these are use cases, Agot is creating the technology that will be used and tailored specifically to a partner company. We’re “providing a bunch of tools,” DeSantola said, and the companies themselves will implement them in ways that make sense for business

Order accuracy is a “huge market problem,” in fast food, DeSantola said. He doesn’t anticipate robots being a meaningful part of food service for at least 10 years, but that’s too long to wait to solve that problem. In the meantime, Agot’s technology could increase the accuracy of human workers, especially as fast food becomes slower and more expensive, and customers may have less tolerance for errors.

Employers surveilling workers isn’t new, but it’s gotten more attention lately. E-commerce giant Amazon is the most famous company for its surveillance techniques, like AI cameras that monitor delivery drivers for speeding, distracted driving, and even yawning on the job and a system tracking “time off task” for warehouse workers.

Other retailers have implemented similar methods. Some 7-Eleven stores, Dairy Queens, and Holiday Inns use cameras from Live Eye Surveillance to continuously monitor and admonish staff during their shifts. For $US399 ($AU529) a month, the company hires remote workers in India to watch a live feed of workers, according to a report from Vice News.

It’s unclear how fast-food workers will react to greater surveillance from their employers. Low wage customer service workers are typically subjected to closer scrutiny and constant monitoring than white collar workers, though that may be changing as many companies implemented greater surveillance of remote employees during the pandemic.

Fast-food workers have traditionally had little leverage to object to conditions they found unfavorable, but in the tight labor market businesses are more desperate than ever to hold onto the workers that they do have. Nearly 80% of restaurant operators say they don’t have enough workers to handle business, and an analyst estimates that a lack of workers is keeping sales at fast-food giant McDonald’s depressed by 3 to 4%.

Ghost kitchens, which have become more relevant in the past year as big names invest in them, seem like a strong argument for technology like Agot’s. DeSantola sees this type of business as a potential customer because workers are “cooking for way more restaurants, and menus get really complex really quickly.” While Agot is keeping an eye on ghost kitchens as future customers, the company is also “keeping a general perspective” on the entire food industry.

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