U.S. Fast-food Chains Consider Trying License Plate Recognition in Drive-throughs

Camilla Hodgson wrote . . . . . . . . .

Drive-throughs have been a staple of American life since the mid-20th century, but how they work — and how well they know you — is about to change.

Fast-food chains are looking to deploy cameras that recognize license plates in order to identify customers, personalize digital menus and speed up sales. Starbucks began trying such a system in South Korea last year with customers who preregistered their cars. Restaurants in the United States are now looking to follow suit.

License plate recognition has been around since the mid-1970s and traditionally has been associated with law enforcement and repossession agencies. Cameras attached to police cars or lampposts read the license plates of passing vehicles and compare the results to a database of wanted cars. The system alerts officers when a suspect vehicle is spotted.

As the cost of the software, and of high-quality internet-connected cameras, has come down, the uses of license plate recognition have grown. Wary homeowner associations use private systems to spot potential criminals, and construction sites use the technology to monitor incoming traffic. Privacy advocates say that this is excessive and that the widespread use of tracking technology is dangerous.

Drive-throughs could use license plate recognition to help identify repeat customers, enabling a restaurant chain to link an individual car with a customer’s credit card and order history — meaning the customers could pay without pulling out their wallets or phones.

Customers who belong to loyalty programs or use restaurants’ apps could add their license plates to their existing profiles; cameras positioned in drive-through lanes would then take photos of cars’ plates, and the analysis software would determine whether they belonged to known customers.

How chains would ask people to opt in, and whether they would store the license plate images of those who don’t opt in, remains to be seen.

‘The advent of these capabilities’

License plate recognition start-up 5Thru said several drive-through chains in the United States and Canada were trying its technology, and it expected to sign its first major contract by the end of next year.

Chief Executive Daniel McCann said 5Thru’s technology helped restaurants process about 30 extra cars a day by reducing order time. He said the system, driven by artificial intelligence, also improves upselling by recommending items based on a customer’s past orders, the weather and how busy a store’s kitchen is.

Tracking customers using cameras is just one way stores are seeking to become more efficient in the face of online competition. Data-driven innovations include systems that alert shops when a product is out of stock and systems that try to interpret expressions on a customer’s face to gauge the person’s interest.

In March, McDonald’s bought machine-learning start-up Dynamic Yield for $300 million. Part of the idea was that Dynamic Yield, which specializes in “decision logic,” would help make food and add-on suggestions to drive-through customers who are in line. Drivers would see tailored options on digital menus, based on factors including the time of day and their selection, the chain said.

In 2017, fried chicken chain KFC partnered with Chinese search engine Baidu to develop a facial recognition tool used to predict someone’s order based on the person’s “age and mood” and recommend a meal.

Although no drive-through chains in the United States have rolled out license plate recognition at scale, McCann said, “there are a lot of conversations going on.” Jason Spielfogel, director of product management at security company Identiv, and John Chigos, founder of PlateSmart Technologies, also said the number of inquiries from retailers about license plate recognition was growing.

Meanwhile, telecom giant AT&T said it had received numerous requests from fast-food chains looking to deploy technologies such as facial recognition and license plate recognition via its 5G networks, some of which it was now working with.

“We are at the advent of these capabilities,” said Michael Colaneri, vice president of retail and restaurants at AT&T, though “nobody has quite pulled it all off.” Given increasing concerns about privacy and surveillance, he emphasized the importance of obtaining customer permission before rolling out these systems.

Data-driven drive-through

In addition to technical expertise, effective data-driven personalization relies on a huge amount of information about customers. Privacy campaigners have long criticized license plate recognition, calling it overly invasive and poorly regulated. In the United States, states have different rules governing the technology, including to whom these systems can be sold and how long the data may be stored.

States including Arkansas, Georgia and Maine restrict the technology’s use to law enforcement and security purposes. But business can use license plate recognition in most states without explicit driver consent: Courts have generally ruled that there is no expectation of privacy in license plates.

Although license plate recognition photos collected by police forces are protected by local laws, some vendors, such as Motorola-owned Vigilant, sell access to huge troves of such data collected by commercial customers. This information is not subject to the same usage and deletion rules that govern law enforcement.

In this context, restaurants “don’t want to talk about [license plate recognition] because it sounds too Big Brother-y,” said Aaron Allen, founder of restaurant consultancy Aaron Allen & Associates.

Which metrics are chosen to help make predictions — license plate recognition cameras can identify a vehicle’s age, make and condition — and how long to store the images remain key decisions for restaurant chains.

In 2014, a user of online forum MetaFilter asked whether McDonald’s was “running my license plate through a database, in near-real time” after being greeted with a “Welcome back!” by a drive-through employee. A debate ensued, which prompted talk of paranoia, spying, tinfoil hats and the suggestion that “scanning license plates seems like an absurd, time-consuming, expensive, and completely useless thing for a McDonald’s franchise to do.”

But in March 2018, discussing the Dynamic Yield acquisition, McDonald’s global Chief Information Officer Daniel Henry said the company could in the future use license plate recognition to personalize smart menus.

Several years earlier, in 2012, Xerox had filed a patent application for a drive-through tool to help track repeat customers, which went a step further — using “vehicle and facial information.”

Xerox has not advertised that specific product. However, the company offers license plate recognition services as well as a “passenger detection” police tool. The system uses cameras to identify a vehicle and how many people are in it, and redacts facial images “for privacy purposes.”

Source : Los Angeles Times

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Turkey Sliders with Avocado, Mushrooms, and Swiss Cheese

Ingredients

8 whole-grain slider buns (lowest sodium available)
1-1/4 lbs ground, skinless turkey breast
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup sliced brown (crimini) mushrooms
8 slices low-fat Swiss cheese
4 small avocados (mashed with a fork)
1 medium tomato, cut into 8 slices (about 1/4-inch thick)

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 450°F.
  2. Spread the avocado over the Swiss cheese. Top with the tomato slices. Put the tops of the buns on the sliders.
  3. Using four short skewers, pierce two sliders with each skewer. Serve immediately.
  4. Arrange the buns with the cut side up in a single layer on a baking sheet. Set aside.
  5. Using your hands or a spoon, shape the turkey into 8 patties, each about 3 inches in diameter. (The uncooked patties will be larger than the bun and will shrink as they cook.) Sprinkle the salt over each patty.
  6. Heat a large nonstick skillet or griddle pan over medium-high heat.
  7. Cook the patties for 2 to 3 minutes. Turn over the patties. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the patties are no longer pink in the center and register 165°F on an instant-read thermometer.
  8. Transfer the patties to the bottoms of the buns.
  9. In the same skillet, cook the mushrooms over medium heat for about 3 minutes, or until soft, stirring frequently.
  10. Spoon the mushrooms onto each patty. Top with the Swiss cheese.
  11. Place the baking sheet on the middle rack of the oven. Bake the sliders for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the Swiss cheese is melted and the buns are heated through. Remove from the oven.

Makes 4 servings.

Source: American Heart Association

In Pictures: International Cold Noodle Dishes

Pasta Salad

Hiyashi chūka – Japanese Chinese-style Chilled Noodle

Naengmyeon – Korean Chilled Noodle

Chinese Sichuan Cold Noodles

Yum Woon Sen – Thai Salad

Bún Chả – Vietnamese Cold Noodle

Tum Khao Poon – Laotian Vermicelli Salad

Amount of Omega 3 Fatty Acids in Fish and Seafood

For 100 grams portion

Glucose and The Brain: Improving Mental Performance

Glucose is a type of sugar which the brain depends on for fuel. Studies show that dips in glucose availability can have a negative impact on attention, memory and learning, and that administering glucose can enhance these aspects of cognitive function. The brain also uses up more glucose during challenging mental tasks. Therefore, it may be especially important to keep blood glucose levels at an optimum level for good cognitive function. Consuming regular meals may help to achieve this.

Glucose as fuel

Glucose is a type of sugar which comes predominantly from starchy foods (bread, rice, pasta and potatoes) as well as fruits, juices, honey, jams and table sugar. The body can break down the digestible carbohydrates in these foods into glucose, which is transported in the bloodstream to the brain and other organs for energy. The body tightly regulates blood glucose levels; this is known as glucose homeostasis. A process called gluconeogenesis allows the body to make its own glucose from the building blocks of protein and fat. Glucose can be stored in form of glycogen in the liver and to a somewhat lesser extent in the muscle. Glycogen forms an energy reserve that can be quickly mobilised to meet a sudden need for glucose (physical exercise), but also when glucose intake from food is insufficient (during fasting, for example), the body can get glucose by breaking down its glycogen stores. Liver glycogen is nearly depleted 12 to 18 hours after eating, overnight fasting, for example, after which the body relies more on energy from breaking down fats.

The energy needs of the brain

The human brain is made up of a dense network of neurons, or nerve cells, which are constantly active — even during sleep. To obtain the energy needed to sustain this activity, the brain depends on a continuous supply of glucose from the bloodstream. A healthy diet should provide 45-60% of total energy from carbohydrates.1 A normal weight adult requires 200 g of glucose per day, two-thirds of which (about 130 g) is specifically needed by the brain to cover its glucose needs.

The brain competes with the rest of the body for glucose when levels dip very low — such as during starvation. By tightly controlling its share of glucose under these conditions, the brain can maintain its high level of activity. It does this through two main mechanisms: first, by drawing glucose directly from the blood when its cells are low on energy; and second, by limiting the amount of glucose available to the rest of the body so that there is more available to the brain.2,3 These mechanisms are essential for survival. Unlike muscles (including the heart), and the liver, the brain cannot use fatty acids directly for fuel.

Glucose and the mental performance

Despite this sophisticated regulation, short-term dips in glucose availability do occur in certain brain areas. These may impair various cognitive functions such as attention, memory, and learning.4

Studies on glucose have demonstrated how administering this sugar can improve cognitive functioning — in particular, short-term memory and attention.4 Most of these studies give participants a set amount of glucose as a drink. A study by Sünram-Lea and colleagues found that a glucose drink significantly improved long-term verbal memory and long-term spatial memory in young adults. The effect was similar whether the drink was consumed after an overnight fast, a two-hour fast post-breakfast, or a two-hour fast post-lunch.5 Similarly, Riby and colleagues found glucose enhanced memory.6

The more demanding mental tasks appear to respond better to glucose than simpler tasks. This may be because the brain’s uptake of glucose increases under conditions of mild stress, which includes challenging mental tasks.4

Given that the brain is sensitive to short-term drops in blood glucose levels, and appears to respond positively to rises in these levels, it may be beneficial to maintain adequate blood sugar levels in order to maintain cognitive function.4 Eating regular meals may help to achieve this. In particular, studies in children and adolescents have shown that eating breakfast can help to improve mental performance by boosting ability in memory- and attention-related tasks.7

Conclusion

The brain is a highly active organ that relies on glucose for fuel. Glucose comes either directly from carbohydrate-containing foods and drinks, or is produced by the body from non-carbohydrate sources. Keeping blood sugar levels at an optimal level appears to be helpful for maintaining good cognitive function, particularly for more mentally demanding tasks. Consuming regular meals may be a useful way of achieving this.

Source: eufic


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