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Vehicle-Profiling Technology Speeds Up Fast Food

By Charles Sheehan
Associated Press
Wednesday, September 8, 2004; Page E05

PITTSBURGH -- Do you want fries with that? Never mind, we already know.

A Pittsburgh start-up, HyperActive Technologies Inc., is testing technology at area fast-food restaurants designed to give kitchen workers a good indication of what customers want before the hungry souls even get close enough to place an order.

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The system, known as "HyperActive Bob," is in place in several restaurants around Pittsburgh in a primitive form: It tells employees when they are about to get busy, even how much food to put on the grill.

The system uses rooftop cameras that monitor traffic entering a restaurant's parking lot and drive-through. Currently, the system is all about volume: If a minivan pulls in, there's apt to be more than one mouth to feed.

By this time next year, HyperActive Technologies expects to have in place software that keys on the type of vehicle entering the parking lot to determine whether the customers they bear are inclined to order, say, a burger over a chicken sandwich.

As it is, the currently installed technology -- the predictive system is only running simulations for now -- has wowed some seasoned veterans.

"I've been a manager for 28 years," said Pat Currie, a manager at a McDonald's in Chippewa Township. "It's the most impressive thing I've ever seen."

HyperActive Bob is now at seven area McDonald's, a Burger King and a Taco Bell.

It was installed at Currie's restaurant two years ago. Since then, waste has been cut in half and wait times at the drive-through have been reduced by 25 to 40 seconds per consumer, Currie said -- an eternity in the fast-food industry.

Profit margins for fast-food franchisees are built and busted in seconds. Store managers must calculate demand and make their best guess as to how long that window of demand will last.

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