We've all been there: you roll up to a McDonald's with a craving for one of their deliciously cheap soft serve ice cream offerings, only to find that the machine is reportedly broken. Is it actually broken, or does the staff just not want to bother making you the treat you so desire? Is there some inherent flaw in the design of McDonald's ice cream machines to leads them to such frequent failures, or is there a greater plot amiss? You don't know, but the lack of sugar in your blood inspires the worst in your paranoia. You start to feel like there's a conspiracy against you — that every time you find yourself yearning for that McSundae or McFlurry, the Powers That Be continue to deny your satisfaction with a cruelly cackling glee.
So what do you do? Well, if you're 24-year-old Rashiq Zahid, you create an artificial intelligence called McBroken that exploits the built-in API in the existing McDonald's app to order McSundaes en masse at regular intervals, to track whether or not the ice cream machines at certain locations are indeed functioning.
The Verge spoke directly with this intrepid ice cream entrepreneur:
Zahid first tested McBroken in Germany, which has around 1,500 locations. He biked to every location in Berlin, placing manual sundae orders to determine if his bot was returning the correct information. It passed with flying colors. Today, he's expanded to the states.
"I was like, this would be pretty interesting for Germany, but it would be amazing for the US, which is basically the capital of McDonald's," Zahid told The Verge.
Within 20 minutes of its launch, McBroken received 10,000 visitors. It ran sluggishly at first, and eventually crashed. "I'm running this on a server that costs $5 a month, so it was bound to crash," Zahid said. After an hour of troubleshooting, which involved offloading some traffic, Zahid now assures me that the site "works perfect."
But he'd intended the tool to be a joke — and is shocked to hear that people find it legitimately useful. "I just made it for fun," said Zahid. "But people were like 'Wow, this is the best thing I've seen this entire week.'"
So anyway, if you're craving an M&M McFlurry, you can check the map on McBroken to find out which locations are up and running. The website also compiles functionality statistics in different areas; as of this writing, the Boston area where I live has a 22.22% failure rate, nearly twice the current national average of 12.99%. (Anecdotally, a nearly-1-in-4 failure rate for McDonald's ice cream machines definitely tracks with my personal experience in New England; perhaps that's why I am so McBroken inside.)
Meet the 24-year-old who's tracking every broken McDonald's ice-cream machine in the US [Monica Chin / The Verge]
Bot orders $18,752 of McSundaes every 30 min. to find if machines are working [Kate Cox / Ars Technica]
Image: Magnus D/Flickr (CC 2.0)