The Traffic Jam Whopper project may be the coolest/dumbest IoT idea ever

Burger King uses real-time IoT data to deliver burgers to drivers stuck in traffic — and it seems to be working.

Burger King, Traffic Jam Whopper, IoT, internet of things
Mike Mozart (CC BY 2.0)

People love to eat in their cars. That’s why we invented the drive-in and the drive-thru.

But despite a fast-food outlet on the corner of every major intersection, it turns out we were only scratching the surface of this idea. Burger King is taking this concept to the next logical step with its new IoT-powered Traffic Jam Whopper project.

I have to admit, when I first heard about this, I thought it was a joke, but apparently the Traffic Jam Whopper project is totally real and has already passed a month-long test in Mexico City. While the company hasn’t specified a timeline, it plans to roll out the Traffic Jam Whopper project in Los Angeles (where else?) and other traffic-plagued megacities such as São Paulo and Shanghai.

How Burger King's Traffic Jam Whopper project works

According to Nations Restaurant News, this is how Burger King's Traffic Jam Whopper project works:

The project uses real-time data to target hungry drivers along congested roads and highways for food delivery by couriers on motorcycles.

The system leverages push notifications to the Burger King app and personalized messaging on digital billboards positioned along busy roads close to a Burger King restaurant.

According to the We Believers agency that put it all together, “By leveraging traffic and drivers’ real-time data [location and speed], we adjusted our billboards’ location and content, displaying information about the remaining time in traffic to order, and personalized updates about deliveries in progress.” The menu is limited to Whopper Combos to speed preparation (though the company plans to offer a wider menu as it works out the kinks).

The company said orders in Mexico City were delivered in an average of 15 minutes. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it) many traffic jams hold drivers captive for far longer than that.

Once the order is ready, the motorcyclist uses Google maps and GPS technology embedded into the app to locate the car that made the order. The delivery person then weaves through traffic to hand over the Whopper. (Lane-splitting is legal in California, but I have no idea if there are other potential safety or law-enforcement issues involved here. For drivers ordering burgers, at least, the Burger King app supports voice ordering. I also don’t know what happens if traffic somehow clears up before the burger arrives.)

Here’s a video of the pilot program in Mexico City:

New technology => new opportunities

Even more amazing, this is not just a publicity stunt. NRN quotes Bruno Cardinali, head of marketing for Burger King Latin America and Caribbean, claiming the project boosted sales during rush hour, when app orders are normally slow:

“Thanks to The Traffic Jam Whopper campaign, we’ve increased deliveries by 63% in selected locations across the month of April, adding a significant amount of orders per restaurant per day, just during rush hours."

If nothing else, this project shows that creative thinking really can leverage IoT technology into new businesses. In this case, it’s turning notoriously bad traffic—pretty much required for this process to work—from a problem into an opportunity to generate additional sales during slow periods.

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