Voice tech startup Qwhery is joining the Esri Startup Program to boost its platform making municipal available through a voice assistant. The program is designed to help startups that are leveraging geographic information system (GIS) provided by Esri.
The 411 on Q11
Burlington, Ontario-based Qwhery is working on a product called Q11, which brings publicly available municipal data to Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant. The resulting Alexa skills let people ask about city services and find out what’s happening locally through Echo smart speakers or other Alexa-enabled devices. To make sure the people are connected to the relevant city services, Qwhery uses the Esri Geospatial Cloud, advanced mapping and intelligence platform.
Q11 is named for the 311 phone service many cities offer that connects a caller with municipal departments to take care of things like downed power lines, potholes, or legal matters. When the skill is enabled on Alexa, a user simply has to ask the voice assistant for answers about city services, find out what’s on the calendar, or get information about local officials. It’s all information provided on public websites, just in the form of a voice. The idea is for the voice skill to take on some of the load of 311 phone calls so that local governments can provide information without overtaxing their workers, yet still gather data about what citizens want to reach out to discuss.
“Municipalities are looking at ways to enhance their citizen engagement and at the same time thinking about digital transformation to modernize their service delivery,” said Qwhery CEO Matt Pietryszyn in a statement. “Using ArcGIS Open Data, an Esri technology, cities can easily connect their open data to Q11, and begin to put their data to work.”
Smart Cities Speak Up
Applying voice tech to government services is becoming more common as cities experiment with using voice assistants. Mesa, Arizona has set up an Alexa skill to perform similar informational duties for its citizens, including accessing the city calendar and learning about local officials. Mesa also added the option for people to pay their utility bills through the voice app. Amazon also offers utility bill payment directly, a service it began in India, before going worldwide with more than 700 utility companies. Google Assistant has a similar arrangement with Xcel Energy. Meanwhile, Estonia wants to set up a voice assistant for the whole country to connect citizens with government services.
Perhaps anticipating that there is interest in those features, Qwhery plans to add the ability to make payments to its voice app. It’s also working on setting up notification subscriptions and the ability to alert the city about problems. The convenience and relatively low cost of a voice app for cities and the people who live there make it likely that Qwhery will have a lot of potential clients and rivals in the next few years.