Hi Auto in multimillion-dollar deal with US drive-thru restaurant chain Checkers & Rally’s

American drive-thru restaurant chain Checkers & Rally’s is adopting the speech recognition developed by Israeli startup Hi Auto. The Tel Aviv-based company’s solution is the first of its kind for the restaurant industry. The solution enables restaurants to take orders from drivers through an artificial intelligence system that makes it possible for drivers to converse normally with a virtual assistant at the orders counter.

Checkers & Rally’s has about 900 branches across the US. It will install the solution in all the company-operated stores and in most of the franchised locations. Hi Auto uses a SaaS model and the deal will generate millions of dollars revenue for the company.

Two of the ten largest US fast-food chains are carrying out advanced pilots to test Hi Auto’s solution for automated voice ordering. The US fast food market is estimated at $300 billion, and restaurants with drive-thru lanes see up to 80% of their total business there.

The speech recognition technology that Hi Auto has developed enables drivers at the drive-thru lane to converse in natural language with Auto, a smart AI-based virtual assistant, which accepts the order, understands its contents, offers additions and upgrades (upsell) in a human voice, and sends the order to the kitchen. The system has a 95% accuracy rate. It understands complex menus, can understand the customer’s half-sentences, multiple detailed requests, and monitors changes in the order that the customer is making during the conversation.

The system effectively functions as an outstanding employee, who does not tire, always comes to work, is always polite, and does not forget to recommend upsells. The system not only helps address the labor shortage crisis in the US restaurant industry, which is losing hundreds of thousands of workers a month, but also improves the restaurant’s performance when compared to a human employee. For example, recordings of employees discovered that they only offer upsells for around 10% of orders, while the system does so for around 70% of orders. Because the cost structure of restaurants is mostly comprised of fixed costs, this change has an immediate effect on the bottom line.

Roy Baharav, CEO of Hi Auto, says, “Hi Auto is the first virtual assistant in the world that is being deployed at scale by Quick Service chains. The solution that we developed reduces the load and dependence on personnel by taking orders automatically and helps overcome the shortage of about 1.5 million workers in the US, which has adversely affected the industry in the past two years. In the future, the virtual assistant will improve all restaurant sales processes.”

Baharav adds, “Routine, low-paid work under pressure causes high turnover of workers and a constant race in hiring and training. In the current crisis, owners are unable to man restaurants with the minimum number of workers needed and have to close early or shut down completely. Chains are now dreaming of building restaurants that are based on a smaller number of employees who receive a higher salary and stay diligent over time, and we can help them make this dream come true.”

Hi Auto was founded in 2019 by Zohar Zisapel, who serves as its executive chairman and is an investor in the company, Roy Baharav, CEO, who served in IDF Unit 81 and worked at Google, and Eyal Shapira, CTO, a graduate of the IDF Talpiot program and Unit 81, and a serial entrepreneur. The company has raised $8 million since it was founded and is preparing for a Series A funding round in 2022. The company currently has 40 employees, most of whom are at its development center in Tel Aviv, and it plans to double its workforce in the coming year in order to meet its growth challenges.

Touchless.ai converts touch-based interface to a voice-based interface

[ictured above (right to left): Roy Baharav and Eyal Shapira, founders of Hi-Auto]

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 crisis, numerous Israeli auto-tech companies have used their technology intended for the automotive market to develop dedicated solutions to deal with the special needs of the new reality. This action was also taken by the Tel Aviv-based auto-tech company Hi Auto, which launched a solution called Touchless.ai, which allows touch-based user interfaces, such as those found in self-service machines in clinics or fast food chains, to be turned into “sterile” interfaces operated by voice commands, i.e., touch-free.

The new solution is based on the audio-video technology developed by the company for in-vehicle voice control systems. Hi-Auto’s technology includes a microphone, a camera focused on the driver’s lips, and a deep-learning software installed on the vehicle’s computer that removes background noise. Touchless.ai is an add-on based on the same technology and can be installed on any existing touch interface. Roy Baharav, one of the founders of Hi Auto and the director of the new venture, told TechTime that as soon as the COVID-19 crisis broke out, the company identified the new need and opportunity.

“We realized very quickly that everything related to voice command would gain momentum, and that voice interfaces would transform from an application that’s nice to have, into something imperative [in light of the current reality]. We built a solution that is separate from what we do in the automotive world, that is simpler and that allows people to use voice-based interfaces in a reliable and user-friendly way, without having to make significant adjustments from business to business “.

The same challenge found within the space of the vehicle regarding voice-command interfaces – to identify the relevant speaker, i.e., the user, and separate his voice commands from background noises – exists also in public spaces. Baharav: “Even in a restaurant, airport, or train station there is considerable environmental noise that interferes with speech comprehension.”

A camera that reads lips

The Touchless.ai plugin solves the problem in two ways: it converts each and every action in the interactive interface to a defined voice command, and displays to the user on the screen what the relevant voice command is, for example, to order a particular dish in a restaurant or to issue a certain document in a governmental self-service machine. The plugin makes the interface accessible to the user and reduces the possible “conversation” scenarios between the user and the machine, thereby making it easier for the voice processor to accurately identify the command. In addition, the recognition of voice commands is also aided by a camera, which reads the speaker’s lip movements and helps to identify commands.

At this stage, the company has adapted the software to English, Japanese and Hebrew, and has begun pilots with several retail chains in the US and Europe. The market of body gesture-based control interfaces is still in its infancy, especially in the automotive sector where there is a safety need for contactless control of information and entertainment systems. However, in the field of consumer electronics and smart home, the technology has not been adopted yet. It is possible that the current need to maintain hygiene in public space will lead to a significant boost. The research company Research & Markets estimates that the market for contactless operating interfaces is expected to grow in the coming years at an annual rate of 17.6% and reach a volume of approximately $15.3 billion in 2025.

Hi Auto Raised $4.5 Million in Seed Round

Photo above: Hi Auto Co-founders Roy Baharav (right) and Eyal Shapira

The Tel Aviv based Hi Auto is set to demonstrate innovative audio-visual commercial solution for speech recognition in harsh environments. The company has completed a $4.5 million seed round to fund the development of a novel noise reduction technique for improved speech recognition. The technology will be demonstrated at CES 2020 in Las Vegas.

Read My Lips…

Hi Auto’s technology consists of a microphone positioned in front of the speaker, a camera that tracks the speaker’s lips movements and a deep learning software to eliminate the background noises. “Speech recognition is quickly becoming the method of choice to control devices,” said Roy Baharav, CEO and co-founder of Hi Auto. “But when used in noisy and multiple speaker environments, its reliability goes down dramatically.

“Our audio-visual approach is able to focus the detection on the speaker itself, and remove all the other noises.It will make speech recognition experience in the car and in other noisy environments more satisfying and enable OEMs to introduce complex and sensitive capabilities.”

Hi Auto was founded in February 2019 by the CEO Roy Baharav, the CTO Eyal Shapira and the initial investor Zohar Zisapel, who serves as the chairman of the company. Baharav spent a decade in the U.S., where he served in product management positions at Google headquarters in Mountain View, California. Before, he had commanded an elite intelligence technology unit in IDF.

Intel Chose Hi Auto for its “Ignite” Accelerator

The CTO Eyal Shapira was awarded the Israel Defense Prize during his service in a technology unit of IDF. Later, he gave consulting services to companies such as Intel and Broadcom. Zohar Zisapel is one of Israel’s best-known hi-tech entrepreneurs and managers. Zisapel has helped to establish and is the chairman of prominent automotive startups, including Hailo, Argus and Innoviz.

Earlier this month, Hi Auto’s technology was acknowledged by Intel Corporation, who chose the company to join its newly established “Ignite” accelerator in Israel. The latest $4.5 million financing round was led by by the Israeli car importer Delek Motors and Hi Auto’s acting chairman Zohar Zisapel. Other investors were Allied Holdings, Singapore based Goldbell Group, and Plug & Play.