Fo­cus on: Alexa for rail

Ama­zon's Alexa has be­come a house­hold vir­tual as­sis­tant around the globe, grad­u­ally in­creas­ing its use­ful­ness. New­est to its skillset is book­ing travel tick­ets, says Roger Wil­liams

Onboard Hospitality - - Contents -

This is a first-of-akind ser­vice. Rail is lead­ing the way with this dig­i­tal

in­no­va­tion

in a tech­no­log­i­cal first for the travel in­dus­try, UK rail and cus­tomer ser­vice in­no­va­tors Vir­gin Trains and re­tail­ing gi­ant Ama­zon are lead­ing the way in the use of dig­i­tal voice-tech for rail book­ings on the West Coast main­line.

Alexa is al­ready es­tab­lished as tech which can help with mu­sic and to-do lists, alarms, stream­ing, weather, traf­fic and other real-time data. And now, with one, sim­ple voice-based in­struc­tion, pas­sen­gers look­ing for ad­vance sin­gle tick­ets can ask Alexa-en­abled de­vices to book them di­rectly on­board a train, with Ama­zon Pay com­plet­ing the trans­ac­tion on their be­half. In a fun launch pro­mo­tion, any­one who named Alexa is get­ting a free up­grade to First!

For those yet to ex­pe­ri­ence this kind of tech­nol­ogy, Alexa is Ama­zon’s AI (ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence) voice ser­vice and the brain be­hind tens of mil­lions of de­vices. It's sim­i­lar to Ap­ple's Siri.

For both Vir­gin and Ama­zon this cut­ting-edge part­ner­ship is the log­i­cal step fol­low­ing on from the 'skill' de­vel­oped by Vir­gin last year to al­low cus­tomers to browse ser­vice in­for­ma­tion.

The word 'skill' re­lates to a ca­pa­bil­ity or

'skill' of Alexa to com­mu­ni­cate on a par­tic­u­lar task – rather like an App on a smart de­vice – and al­lows cus­tomers to per­son­alise their in­ter­ac­tion.

early adopters

Whilst, at this early stage, Richard Bran­son’s only re­main­ing UK train oper­at­ing com­pany is un­likely to see amaz­ing growth from such an in­no­va­tion, it is in­dica­tive of the type of ‘can do’ ap­proach that he brings to the or­gan­i­sa­tion, where he is ap­par­ently of­ten re­ferred to as ‘Dr Yes’.

Gi­ulio Mon­te­magno, di­rec­tor, Ama­zon Pay EU, says: "With Alexa and Ama­zon Pay, Vir­gin’s cus­tomers can search, se­lect and buy train tick­ets en­tirely through voice. This is a first-of-a-kind ser­vice mak­ing it eas­ier than ever to find and book the ticket you want, even when you’re busy do­ing some­thing else."

One of a host of dig­i­tal projects to be in­tro­duced on Vir­gin, John Sul­li­van, Vir­gin Trains cio com­ments: "We’re very ex­cited to be the first travel com­pany in the world to sell tick­ets through Ama­zon Alexa; it’s just an­other ex­am­ple of Vir­gin Trains lead­ing the way in dig­i­tal in­no­va­tion within the rail in­dus­try."

How long be­fore you can also pre-or­der your on­board meal ser­vice this way too?

Cer­tainly no-one can ar­gue with the num­bers - rid­er­ship last year peaked at 38 mil­lion – some 24 mil­lion a year more than trav­elled on the same line in 1997 when he took over.

It’s not clear how many are called Alexa but that’s a dif­fer­ent story …

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