Want Wyoming Road Conditions? Ask Alexa.

Friday, January 21, 2022

Through a partnership between the Wyoming Department of Transportation (WYDOT) and Trihydro, an environmental engineering and consulting firm out of Laramie, the public can now use the Traveler Information Skill through any Alexa-enabled technology such as the Echo and Echo Dot. This new capability is possible because Trihydro and WYDOT’s GIS/ITS/TMC program have been working together for the last several years on a federal agreement sponsored by the USDOT to demonstrate connected vehicle technology.

In addition, several car companies such as GMC and Hyundai have integrated Alexa into many of their new models, so travelers can use the information skill to access current road conditions while driving.

Once enabled, the Alexa skill pulls travel information messaging from information provided by WYDOT’s Transportation Management Center (TMC).

This means that the same road information that WYDOT puts out on their 511 website and phone app, such as road closures, winter conditions and road construction, is now available to access hands free through Alexa.

Initially, users must install the Traveler Information Skill, either by commanding Alexa to “Install the Traveler Information Skill”, or by manually installing the skill from the Alexa app. Users will then be asked to grant location permissions on their device.

After the skill has been installed, users can say things such as…

“Alexa, ask Traveler information about the roads to Cheyenne.”

“Alexa, ask Traveler Information if the roads to Casper are open.”

“Alexa, open Traveler Information…How are the roads between Rawlins and Rock Springs?”

Users will need to remember that it’s necessary to always preface each question with “Ask Traveler Information” or “Open Traveler Information” in order to get authen- tic messaging from Wyoming’s 511 system.

“Alexa is widely used by a lot of people so incorporating WYDOT data into that line of products seemed like a logical first step, but the information can be shared with anyone, said Shane Zumpf, who leads Trihydro's Technology Services and Solutions Business Unit. He noted that Trihydro is currently developing similar skill sets for other platforms. “The Alexa skill set is up and running now, and we’re looking to roll out similar apps for Google’s Android Auto and Apple’s Siri by April or May of 2022,” Zumpf said.

Vince Garcia, who oversees the TMC, echoed Zumpf’s comments. “The information we provide is all public information. So now, for the first time we’re putting it into a situational data exchange that allows anybody to use that information”.

Garcia noted that there is no fee to use the Alexa skill, nor did the State incur any expense in the design. “The cost of this is nothing, and taxpayers are paying nothing for this. We’re just making the information available, and Trihydro has taken that and turned it into a production system using Alexa. It’s pretty interesting that a Wyoming company has taken this and is leading connected vehicle technology throughout the country,” Garcia said.

Currently, Wyoming is the only state that is actively sharing their road information through the system, but Zumpf is hopeful that will change. “The sharing system we designed is set up so that it can support any number of states, and we're in talks with California and Colorado and a few other states to start getting their data in as well,” Zumpf said. “Our vision for this is that all 50 states will start sharing their data so that the skill can be used nationwide”.

Trihydro is already looking for ways to expand the Alexa Skill’s capabilities according to Zumpf. “We have a couple features we’re hoping to add on in the future, such as notifications and specific route settings.” Zumpf said, adding, “We have a great partnership with WYDOT, and we’re excited about being able to expand on new technologies and new ways of getting information out to the public.”

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