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Austin Tech Firm May Have Solved Drive-Thru Ordering Mishaps

We’ve all been there. You take your family’s complicated, multi-item order down on your phone’s notepad, then drive to the local fast food joint. You wait in line three or four cars deep, then pull up to the speaker. Between the weather and the condition of the two-way comms, it’s nearly a miracle if you can understand what the person on the other end is saying.

You place your order and hope they actually got it right. Then you pull up, hand a stranger your credit card, they take it and for that brief moment you just hope you’re not having your identity swiped along with your card. Then they hand you a bag full of stuff and you hope, again, that what you ordered is what’s in the bag. But thanks to the line of cars building behind you, you don’t feel right about sitting there at the window long enough to check everything. You can only check once you’re home, and of course your kid’s main meal is totally wrong.

Thanks to an Austin, Texas, tech company, all of the dubious aspects of the above could be things of the past.

The company is called Digital Touch Systems, and they’re one of the seemingly endless Austin technology companies that make central Texas the “Silicon Prairie.” Chances are you’ve seen their work wherever you may live across the country.

DTS has recently done digital signage installations at a convenience store chain across Wisconsin, another in North Carolina, and a very large video wall installation at Austin’s convention center, home to SXSW. I first met them about three years ago when I was producing an exhibit for the Alamo in San Antonio. DTS’s parent company supplied some British-made translucent touchscreen artifact display cases, and when we had a heating issue in one (historical artifacts tend to have very specific temperature and humidity requirements), Bryan McCarley and his engineering team created a concealed cooling system so the case always kept the right temperature to preserve the item: A one-of-a-kind Bowie knife. The exhibit, on the life and knife of Jim Bowie, was a huge hit.

I recently caught up with McCarley at his shop in North Austin, and saw a slick yellow kiosk that may transform a staple of our lives. The DTS team is field testing a touchscreen kiosk system that adds drive-thru to Subway restaurants, and ensures what you order is what you get.

“This is a smart drive-thru kiosk,” says McCarley with a smile. McCarley shows me a flat, yellow metal case with a 32-inch touchscreen in the center. It’s about 10 inches thick and weighs about 65 pounds. Inside is the screen plus direct heating and cooling elements McCarley and his team invented and for which they have a patent pending. A thermostat triggers the temperature control system so it automatically adjusts the internal temperature to keep the screen working in all conditions. “This system is eco-friendly, remotely managed, and hardened against everything from extreme weather to vandalism. You can hit them with winter snow, summer sun, or a hammer, whatever, they’ll stand up to it. We’re Texans and we build ‘em tough.”