Google Assistant is Enabling Socially Distant Prepaid Phone Refills in India
Prepaid phone owners in India can now refill their accounts at retail stores by voice using Google Assistant. People can thus go to Vodafone Idea outlets to top up their accounts while still remaining at a distance to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Usually, when someone goes to a Vodafone or Idea store to up the money on their account, the cashier gives them a phone to enter their phone number and how much they want to add to their account. The retailer then recharges the phone using the Smart Connect Retailer app. Now, Google Assistant has been integrated into the app, allowing the customer to speak their phone number from as much as ten feet away, and the voice assistant will automatically enter it into the Smart Connect Retailer app. Vodafone Idea already offers mobile apps to do so, but for those who rely on going to a retail store, the voice option promotes a safer transaction. The voice assistant understands both English and Hindi, but new languages will be added soon. The Indian government has assigned colors to different parts of the country, depending on the severity of the COVID-19 outbreak there, with red as the most severe, followed by orange and then green. The government recently started to ease restrictions on movement in some of the less hard-hit areas of the country, but social distancing is still required.
“As retail outlets in various Orange and Green zones across the country start to open, Vodafone Idea is ensuring complete implementation of social distancing protocol at its stores,” Vodafone Idea said in a statement. “In order to facilitate contactless recharges, Smart Connect is now enabled with voice-based recharge feature and is available at all Vodafone Idea own stores and multi-branded stores.”
Google has worked closely with Vodafone for some time. Last fall, Google and Vodafone set up a free, dedicated phone line for people to call the Google assistant from any phone, and the voice assistant has far more voice apps in Hindi than Alexa partly because of its work with the telecom company. With the current pandemic, India has seen a rapid evolution in voice and AI technology, including a government-created WhatsApp chatbot, a voice-enabled dashboard for tracking the outbreak using crowdsourced data, and the kAs app, which is attempting to potentially diagnose the virus using the sound of people’s voices.