Nov 6, 2023 - News

New Broadway chatbot aimed at better construction communication

Illustration of a hardhat and safety vest on a chat bubble.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

As major road construction projects continue across San Antonio, the city is sharing information about one project with the help of a chatbot.

What's happening: Passersby can access the new Talkin' Broadway chatbot by sending a text message or scanning QR codes placed along lower Broadway downtown.

  • That begins a two-way conversation in English or Spanish on construction updates and schedules for lower Broadway, access to small businesses' sites, city staff contact information and more.

Why it matters: City staff and elected officials have taken heat from business owners and residents frustrated by lengthy road construction, which has sometimes blocked access to small businesses across the city.

Context: Major street reconstruction projects will continue for the foreseeable future. San Antonio's five-year bond programs used to tackle large infrastructure projects have grown.

  • Projects along South Alamo Street in Southtown and Roosevelt Avenue on the South Side have already attracted concerns about business access and project delays, respectively.

What they're saying: "Talkin' Broadway isn't just a chatbot. It's a conversation starter, bringing us closer to our community and transforming the way the city connects with visitors and residents," Brian Dillard, San Antonio's chief innovation officer, said in a statement.

By the numbers: The city spent about $14,000 on a one-year contract with Hello Lamp Post for the technology, Brian Chasnoff, assistant director of infrastructure communications, tells Axios.

Details: The chatbot can direct a downtown visitor looking for a cup of coffee or provide information to a nearby business owner who wants to know how long an intersection will be closed, Chasnoff says.

  • To interact with the chatbot, text "Hello SA 3" to 210-802-2265.
Signage along Broadway downtown offers a QR code in front of construction equipment and a "sidewalk closed" cone.
A sign along Broadway downtown shows how people can scan a QR code or text a number for information about the corridor and construction updates. Photo: Megan Stringer/Axios

How it works: The city will collect anonymous data on the number of conversations and users, as well as what they're saying to inform improvements to the technology, Chasnoff says.

  • It does not collect personal information.

The intrigue: Officials will also have access to data about whether people feel negatively, neutrally or positively about the construction, based on the text conversations.

  • "It actually analyzes sentiment," Chasnoff tells Axios.

Of note: The chatbot does not use artificial intelligence.

The big picture: While the chatbot is the first project of its kind for the city, it's part of the Smart Cities Roadmap, using technology and innovation in local government to solve problems.

Zoom in: Dillard says completed Smart Cities pilots include:

  • Digital kiosks offering Wi-Fi and resources around the city
  • A smart farm at the Young Women's Leadership Academy
  • The food forest at Padre Park
  • The city's COVID-19 data dashboard, which has since been scaled back
  • And a smart streetlight program that gathered data on heat, air quality, noise pollution, flooding and parking to address neighborhood concerns.

What's next: The $42 million lower Broadway project is expected to be completed next summer. It includes updated curbs, sidewalks, pedestrian lighting, landscaping, underground drainage and more.

  • If the city determines the chatbot pilot is successful, it will be used for other high-profile construction projects across San Antonio.

The bottom line: "This is geared toward meeting people on the ground and getting them answers immediately," Chasnoff tells Axios.


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