Alibaba demonstrates smart ordering in cafe and restaurants using voice AI

|May 23, 2018 0

Alibaba Machine Intelligence Technologies has unveiled an intelligent speech interaction technology aimed at “smart ordering” in cafes and restaurants. The new technology lets buyers order their food item or coffee by speaking to a smart ordering machine.

The Alibaba DAMO Academy unit, which focuses on fundamental AI research, said the machine will understand the customer order requests and display the order onscreen in a split second.

Buyers can modify their orders as many times as they want, and the machine is expected to catch all the changes and update immediately. For example, a customer might say: “I want to order two large cups of cappuccino. Oh, please make them with less sugar and decaf. To go. And sorry. That should be three cups of cappuccino, two large and one small.” The smart ordering machine will then display the full order as two large cups and one small cup of decaf cappuccino, all with less sugar than usual and note that it’s for takeout.



Smart ordering is possible through the team’s latest research in spoken language understanding (SLU), a field that involves both speech processing and natural language processing. First, the team develops a multi-modal speech interaction solution that can capture both voice and visual features, taking into account such things as the speaker’s pace, pauses between words, pronunciation, breaths and facial expression. Next, the team builds a reinforcement-learning model that allows for revisions and intent detection. All are important in the SLU field, making it possible to apply the latest SLU technology into commercial use.

The solution is currently only for Chinese-speaking customers. The smart ordering machine is expected to roll out to the market in the next few months, and the technology solution will be available on Alibaba Cloud to benefit small and medium-size enterprises.

Zhijie Yan, Head of Intelligent Speech Interaction at Alibaba Machine Intelligence Technologies said, “Our multi-modal speech interaction solution, underpinned by our insights in spoken language understanding, can be used in different scenarios including food and beverage ordering, customer service, voice commands for home appliances and in smart cars, and voice response to inquiries in shopping malls or airports.” “With the smart ordering machine as a perfect example, we believe the solution would greatly enhance the customer experience and make running a business more efficient,” added Yan.

In December last year, Alibaba introduced far-field voice-recognition technology to ticketing kiosks in Shanghai metro stations, allowing passengers to use their voices to tell the kiosks their destination, and the machines will recommend the best route.

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