Amazon Alexa - Melbourne Transport Skill

1. Overview

Over the last few months I've been playing with Amazon Alexa, and building some private Alexa Skills which make my life easier. These "skills" retrieve data from multiple systems, and make them available in a summarised way, which I can very simply interrogate at any time.

After looking into the Alexa market place, I couldn't find any Australian Skills, which provide Public information. I decided then to build the "Melbourne Transport" Skill, which provides public transport information in realtime.

This is a very short demo of the main feature:

2. How to get started with Alexa?

In order to get started, and use the Melbourne Transport skill, you need either a device or an application to connect to the Amazon Alexa Platform.

2.1 Registering to the Alexa Service

As a pre-requisite, you must have an Amazon account, and be able to login to the Alexa application. You can first try to login to: (http://alexa.amazon.com) .

Also, download the Amazon Alexa application from either your Iphone/Ipad or your Android device. The Alexa Application is particularly useful, as it allows you to configure your Alexa Devices, add new skills, play content, and also visualize the Alexa Skill Cards.

2.2 Device/App to use the Alexa Voice Service

These are the main options:

2.3 Adding Melbourne Transport Skill

You can add the Melbourne Transport Skill from either the Internet browser (http://alexa.amazon.com/) , or from the Alexa application for Android/Iphone.

Go to Skills, and search by the word "Melbourne". Once you locate the Melbourne Transport Skill, enable it.

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3. What Can I ask Melbourne Transport Skill?

These are the main questions you can ask:

3.1 Next Train departure (based on the station names)

When you ask for the next train departure, you will get the next three departures. The direction is the final train station in a given line.

You can ask in a few ways:

a) Conversational

You: "Alexa, ask Melbourne Transport when is the next train"

Alexa: "From which station?"

You: "Balaclava Station"

Alexa: "From: balaclava station. To which direction? Flinders Street station or Sandringham station?"

You: "Flinders Street Station"

b) In one shot

"Alexa, ask Melbourne transport when is the next train from Balaclava Station to Flinders Street Station"

3.2 Next Train departure (based on saved trips)

You can ask for the next train based on a saved trip, rather than mentioning the station names.

For example, you can ask:

  • "Alexa, ask Melbourne transport next train trip home to work"

  • "Alexa, ask Melbourne transport next train trip 1"

These are the predefined trip names you can use. I will cover how to save the trips in the next section:

  • trip home to work
  • trip work to home
  • trip home to school
  • trip school to home
  • trip 1
  • trip 2
  • trip 3
  • trip 4
  • trip 5

3.3 Saving a Trip

You can save a trip using the following sentence structure:

"Save {TripName} from {FromStop} to {ToStop}"

You can say for example:

"Alexa, open Melbourne Transport"

"Save trip home to work from Box Hill Station to Flinders Street Station"

3.4 Train Stop Facilities

Provides the available facilities at a given train stop.

You can ask for example: "Alexa, ask Melbourne Transport what are the facilities for Flinders Street Station"

3.5 Asking for your Location

When you ask for your location, Melbourne Transport Skill will retrieve the latest saved location from your profile. It will then tell you the address, and the three nearest train stations based on your location.

You can ask: "Alexa, ask Melbourne Transport My Location"

3.6 Updating your Saved Location

The Alexa devices do not have GPS. For this reason, there is a two step process to get your Location known by the Melbourne Transport Skill:

Ask: "Alexa, tell Melbourne Transport Update My Location"

Access your Alexa application from your mobile phone. An Alexa Card will be shown on the Home, as follows.

You need then to copy/paste the full URL into the Internet Browser on your mobile phone.

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Once you open the above URL in your Internet browser, and click on "Update Location", your location will be saved against your profile. You can then ask for your location, as described in the previous section.

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4. Conclusion

Melbourne Transport is built using the services provided by Amazon, including Alexa Service.

At this stage Melbourne Transport supports only Trains, and I made the interactions based on the way I use the train service, and also with feedback from friends.

I'm sure that there is plenty of room for improvement so it would be great to get your feedback.

Support for other modes of transport such as trams, buses and Vline are in the pipeline. The priority will depend on the demand.

In a next post I will share the overall components involved in the solution, and the experience in building this Skill, as well as the challenges and learnings.

Fabio Douek

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