Amazon Launches Alexa Public Transit Tools Nationwide
Amazon has introduced public transportation tools for Alexa across the U.S. after almost a year of testing. The Alexa Transit features brings information and real-time updates for more than 450 public transportation agencies.
Alexa’s public transportation tools debuted in New York City, Philadelphia, Boston, Seattle, Chicago, San and Newark and the Jersey City area last year. The success of those tests has led to the vast expansion of the voice assistant’s databases on bus and train stations, how to navigate them, and how to use public transit to commute or reach interesting places nearby. Users can connect their Alexa accounts, fill in their home and work locations and get answers about their commute or the best directions to get to either destination. Alexa can also answer questions about specific trains and buses, including their status should they be slowed or suspended for some reason. When asked, Alexa will give directions by car or public transit to specific addresses or notable tourist destinations by voice or in visual form on a smartphone. With the U.S. rollout underway, the next stage will be international.
“The Alexa transit status and delays feature is built using Amazon OpenSearch Service, which allows Alexa to scale. This feature will become available in international countries like the UK and Germany later in 2022,” Alexa Navigation senior product manager Kenneth Louie explained. “Customers can search for train and bus data for countries across the globe through the entity resolution built in Amazon OpenSearch Service to assist Alexa’s speech recognition and language understanding functionalities. Alexa provides time-critical information to customers, based on the train or bus line of interest, which is possible thanks to automated ingestion of updated data and working with a leading data provider on status updates and routing details.”
Though the COVID-19 pandemic has limited or halted a lot of commuting and other travel, these kinds of tools could be a boon for when people return to offices and schools. For Amazon, which lacks the in-built voice assistant of Apple and Google-based operating systems, encouraging people to use Alexa while traveling is a good way to edge in on Google Maps or Apple Maps, especially with the guidance of smart displays in people’s homes. Google has regularly integrated voice AI into Maps, channeling Google Translate to help travelers find their way in new places, including using AI to generate audio walking directions specifically designed for people with visual impairments, including guides to bus and train stations. The WeWalk smart cane does the same with its custom voice assistant. Alexa is simply aiming for becoming part of the daily discussion of where to go and how to get there.