New Broadway chatbot aimed at better construction communication
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.
- The chatbot is part of the city's efforts to better communicate with people about construction, a key lesson that arose from a lack of public updates on delays with the St. Mary's Strip project.
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.
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.
- The Smart Cities team has overseen 30 pilot projects since 2018.
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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