Fast Food Drive-Thrus Getting Faster

When you spent time on those intricate childhood daydreams of what the Great Big Glorious Future would look like, it was always the big things you'd focus on: Regular trips to the moon, flying cars, teleportation devices that'd allow you to head over to Antarctica in less than a minute. But while the advances that have actually taken place over the years have been smaller in scope, they haven't been any less incredible. Tell your five-year-old self they'd have 3-D TVs and an encyclopedia's worth of information at their fingertips, and they'd probably settle for it.

And now you can throw another technological advancement on the pile that's seen plenty already this decade: E-Z passes for fast food drive-thrus.

Okay, maybe it's not really that exciting.

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Apparently, while the rest of us haven't been paying attention, five Wendy's locations in Staten Island have been perfecting a device called iDriveThru, which utilizes electronic payment in drive-thru lanes to make the payment process that much quicker. The nuts and bolts are essentially the same thing as the E-Z Pass system that's used on toll roads:

Upon arriving at Wendy's, the tag's data is then read by sensors, offering visitors a personalized greeting on the video above the intercom. Once they've made their order, the card details are read from the tag and the payment is taken automatically. In addition, customers earn ten reward points for every dollar they spend, with 500 points being redeemable for a USD 5 coupon at Wendy's.

In other words, people using this service will get airline miles-like bonuses for fast food. (Frequent Eaters Clubs?)

Now, a few things:

First, if you're hopeful this will be heading to L.A., don't hold your breath. Los Angeles is not particularly set up for this. Sure, we all spend hours upon hours in our cars traveling to and from work, or from one gig to the next... but that time's spent on the highways and not in the middle of drive-thru lanes. It's simply a different culinary landscape. (I cannot say the same thing, for instance, about life in suburban Chicago, where morning drive-thrus at Dunkin' Donutses stretch further than any performer at Cirque du Soleil.) Whether it's because more quality options are at our disposal, or simply our West Coast time zone schedule isn't as rigid as our East Coast brethren, Angelenos are less apt to be on the forefront of any new drive-thru technology, despite the fact that it was invented here. If this thing's going to "catch on" anywhere, it'll be the Midwest or the South.

And, really, that's probably a good thing. Because -- and this is my second point here -- this technological advancement does not seem like a step in the right direction.

This technology's going to be sold on the fact that it helps state finances, since tolling authorities can apparently earn "up to $150,000 a year" if they sign up to participate with iDriveThru. The problem is, that's in direct competition with a government focus on pushing anti-obesity programs. If they truly do want to trim down America's obesity rate, maybe start by not profiting from it?

Also troubling is simply the opportunity cost of using whatever resources to implement this program, and not using them in order to, oh I don't know, fund more anti-obesity programs? Or develop a trial version of this at farmers' markets so people can simply swipe a card instead of spending five minutes rummaging for nickels? Or, instead of giving people five more dollars to spend on factory-farmed meat, maybe give them an apple instead? Really, there are an infinite amount of ideas that are a better use of manpower and money than giving Americans easier access to fast food.

As this graph of American obesity over just the past 12 years shows, what's happening to us due to the easy availability of fast food is terrifying. Google "Fat American" and you can see just how big of a laughingstock we are around the world. This kind of new tech does not help us change that picture. At this rate, by the time the flying cars actually do get here, we may all be too big to get off the ground.

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About the Author

Rick Paulas has written plenty of things, some of them serious, many of them not, scattered over the vast expanses of the Internet. He lives in Los Angeles and is a White Sox fan.
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