INCA Award 2009 submission: realtime train delay info by voice


Busy-person summary

It’s a voice application, not a (visual) web application. You call a phone number and get information.

Just relax and enjoy book report the following movie in Dutch:

or in French:

Goal of the voice application

To provide information by voice:

  • on real-time train arrival and departure times (including delays)
  • for any train station in Belgium
  • to any person that speaks Dutch or French
  • using any fixed or mobile phone

Target users

  • Visually impaired people: all interaction is done by voice
  • Car drivers using hands-free mobile phones
  • People on the go without available Internet connection, e.g. between home/work and train station
  • People who use phones without mobile Internet (yes, they will be around for a while!)
  • People at home or in the office who don’t want to start up their computer, for whatever reason
  • People calling the train company’s call centre, who want to be served immediately

Technical achievements

1) a web service layer on top of www.railtime.be:
  • The screen scraper performs multiple page requests to provide information for the coming 30 to 60 minutes
  • The time window depends on the importance of the station: more trains per minute, smaller time window
  • Netiquette: intelligent shortest-path and geometrical distance algorithms prevent unnecessary server hits

This layer should be replaced with Infrabel’s own Web Service, as soon as it is (made) available technically and legally

2) a VoiceXML application in Dutch & French
  • With a bilingual Dutch-French grammar containing about 1500 train station names
  • Currently runs in development mode on a hosted speech platform (Voxeo)

Current accessibility of the service

Via a local 02 number (normal tariff) in Brussels

  • This number was available for INCA Award jury members during the contest and, on request, for interested test users.
  • As the application is back into development mode now, elements of the thesis assignments online writing we have closed this demo number.
  • If you are interested in this application and would like us to demonstrate it to you on your premises, contact us here: in English, Dutch or French

Upgrade to production system will depend on:

  • Data access agreement with Infrabel – this may or may not be the biggest hurdle
  • Rental of production-ready voice application platform, requiring a moderate initial investment (only a few 1000 euros fixed cost, but still)
  • Potential user feedback – your support may help!

Technical trivia

  • Screen scraper & web service: about 1000 lines of PHP code
  • Voice application: 2000 lines of VoiceXML-generating PHP code, 1000 lines of ECMAScript
  • Behind both: MySQL database with linguistic and location data about Belgian train stations

Possible improvements

  • More sophisticated processing of speech recognition N-best lists (station name recognition)
  • Belgian voices for Dutch and French Text-to-Speech
  • Self-learning features, based on patterns in usage history

Motivation and inspiration

Have fun!

Frederik