Remember the sheer disbelief you felt when you held a cell phone for the first time?
Or your wonderment after snapping a photo and watching it appear on the digital camera screen? That ‘iPod for the first time’ feeling is what you’ll get once you hear some of Jay Ward’s ideas for the drive-thrus of the future.
Ward is the communications manager for crossovers and SUVs for Ford and what’s perhaps more surprising than his Jetsons-style ideas is that he says they’re not that far off—or at least most of them.
For starters, Ford has already developed what it calls Sync technology, which allows a car’s navigation system, a driver’s cell phone, and the automobile’s music system all to be controlled solely through voice commands.
“You can actually press a button and say to the car, ‘I’m hungry.’ And the car automatically lists all the restaurants nearest to your position. That technology is called Syrius Travel Link and exists already,” Ward says.
The first improvement would be a small step beyond that. With the next generation of Sync technology, drivers could use the restaurant information provided by the car and call the restaurant (hands-free, of course) and order a meal. The car would then navigate the driver to the restaurant and through the drive-thru lane. The customer would pick up the food, pay, and leave.
From Ward’s perspective that’s still all too much work. Drive-thru lanes of the future will move much faster, he says, thanks to a few upgrades to the current automobile capabilities. For starters, the car will notify the driver when it’s close to the driver’s favorite quick-serve.
“Every time the car found you near a Burger King, it could tell you that you were near a Burger King and suggestively sell,” Ward says. In Ward’s hypothetical example, consumers would have a brand-specific mobile phone application that contains favorite orders and credit card information.
“All you would have to do is say, ‘Order Burger King’ and the application could go into action ordering what you normally order,” he says. While most of the impressive technology would be housed on the mobile phone or in the car it’s connected to, operators would also need to upgrade POS systems to accept such orders.
Orders that are transmitted from an application on either a mobile phone or Internet-connected car would require a POS platform capable of using stored credit card information to autofill ordering appropriate fields. Luckily, this capability already exists on sites such as Amazon.com that allow repeat users to securely save credit card information instead of retyping it for each order.
But the skeptics out there have surely already spotted problems. What if my children borrow my car and feel like taking all their friends out for a pizza party on my dime? Don’t worry, there’s an app for that.
To ensure that orders are legitimate, quick-serves would send a confirmation number to the user’s mobile phone that would need to be presented at pick-up in order to charge the credit card saved in the system. For orders placed without the consumer’s consent, the confirmation number would alert him that an order has been placed without his knowledge.
“You could transmit the number verbally through the car’s system or as a text message,” Ward says. “We have systems where the Sync can read a text out loud. So as you rolled up to the window, the system could just read the texted confirmation number for you.”
There are also drive-thru enhancements that could occur outside of the car. As eco-friendly cars continue to dominate showroom floors, there’s no doubt that hybrids and electric cars will play an important role in the drive-thrus of the future.
Hybrids are already extremely drive-thru friendly because they do not use gasoline while waiting in line. As a result, Ward sees the biggest future improvement occurring with electric cars. Today, electric-car users rely on traditional electrical sockets to plug in their vehicles and charge their batteries.
In the future, Ward says, electricity will be able to be transferred without the use of wires. “So in a ‘Star Trek’ kind of world, as you drove through the drive-thru there would be a barrier or curtain of energy and the car would receive a jolt of electricity to the fuel cell or battery,” he says. “Maybe you would pay an extra $1 to get the extra charge.”
Ward acknowledges that there are still a few kinks to work out, like ensuring that the drive doesn’t reach out to grab the order while the energy is beaming to the car.
“Clearly the last thing you want to do is have someone put their hand out to pick up the order and then get zapped,” he says. “That would definitely give you a flame-grilled burger.” — Blair Chancey