The Ottawa City Skill
When we think of Smart Cities, we usually think of new fancy technology on the road, smart traffic lights, special roads for self-driving cars, wi-fi everywhere, and an increasing number of “intelligent” sensors to improve the efficiency of operations and provision of services in a city, just to name a few. However, it’s precisely this latter the one that’s usually forgotten or overcomplicated.
Cities are supposed to serve their citizens, provide easy and rapid access to relevant and useful information in their day-to-day. Even so, it’s not always simple to access basic data or request city services. Cities rely, predominantly, on three channels: a website, a call center, or personally at an office. This means that a citizen requesting any service must either have some minimal tech knowledge, enough time to wait on the phone, or be able/willing to physically move to the city’s office.
We believe, there is a faster and easier way to do this.
How about just asking? Let’s imagine these scenarios:
– You’re bored at home and wonder what’d be nice to do during the weekend.
– Your friend is out of town and you don’t know if you should take out the green bin or the blue one.
– You’ve just noticed that a drain cover in front of your house is broken again.
What do you do? Call city services?
What about turning on your computer, find out what’s the correct web address of the city’s website, browse that website full of long texts that nobody reads, try to find the proper link that leads to a long form where you can finally write what’s going on?
Or you can: change your clothes, take your car through the city’s nice traffic, drive to the city’s office, find a parking place, etc. etc. the plot thickens…
What if you could Just Ask?
Smart devices have already invaded the homes of millions of people. Extremely easy to use, always ready to respond, and right there in your living room. So, why don’t we just ask for the service we require? Something like:
– What are today’s activities in the city?
Well, that’s, in fact, the kind of service provided by the Ottawa City Skill for Amazon Alexa.
The original goal of the Ottawa City Skill was to provide an easy way to find interesting activities occurring in the city so that people could share time with friends and family. Such activities get citizens together and help them grow their networks. After a couple of months of being live, the Skill has two new services: garbage collection schedule and 3-1-1 requests (in beta). Providing such services (and more coming) certainly pushes Ottawa even more as a Smart City. Being right there, on Ottawans’ homes, opens a window for potential ways to, not just inform, but to connect with the public.
Currently, Ottawans with an Echo device at home can ask things like:
– Alexa, ask Ottawa City what’s going on today.
– Alexa, ask Ottawa City for this weekend’s activities.
Alexa will respond with a list of the activities that are scheduled for the requested date, including its time and location. The user can name any activity on the list and receive more details like the full schedule, a brief description, cost, and more. Finding what to do during the weekend has never been easier! Just ask and navigate the list as if you were talking to a tourism agent. Literally talking.
The Ottawa City Skill for Alexa can also remind you which garbage bin is collected this week, and which day it is collected. So, if you’ve just moved, or are just too busy to remember such things, then ask Alexa for the garbage collection schedule:
– Alexa, ask Ottawa City which bin is collected this week.
No need to browse the city’s website or peeking out the window to see which bin is on your neighbor’s curbside.
Interacting with the City
Besides just showing information, Smart Cities must provide two-way communication with their citizens. With the 3-1-1 service, the Ottawa City Skill enhances the city’s suite of services. Users can make 3-1-1 requests using voice, no need to call or to use a computer, just Ask Alexa:
Alexa will start a dialogue, asking the right questions related to the issue presented by the citizen. It will post the request to the city’s servers and respond with a request ID, in case the user wants to check the status in the future.
Right now, this feature is in beta testing and only available for two service requests: Graffiti and Drain Covers. It is not posting the requests to the production server, so, requests made using the Skill are not being handled by the City. If you’d like to be part of the beta test send us a message: firstname.lastname@example.org
Moreover, since the Ottawa City provides bilingual services (English and French), we have recently made available the French version of the Skill. If you have your Echo device configured with the French language, just say:
– Alexa, activez Ville d’Ottawa.
Et continuez en Français…
More services are currently being tested to be added to the Skill. Our goal is that Ottawa City provides at least five different services through the Skill to its citizens. Making the Ottawa City Skill for Amazon Alexa a fundamental component of the modern Smart City.
In conclusion, accessing city services is no longer limited to people who have the time to call or to go downtown, or to tech-savvies that know how to find the needle in the website’s haystack. Anyone, with an Echo device, can just talk and be served by the City in the comfort of their home
We’d love to know what you think, how could we improve the Skill, or what service you’d like to have in it. If you’d like to test new features before they become Live in the Skill, let us know! We’ll happily add you to the beta list, help us transform Ottawa into a Smart City. Please, use any of the following ways to reach out: