New Voice-Enabled Phone Technology For Travellers

Travellers in Utah have a new way to get updates on traffic, and they can do it without having to watch television or listen to the radio.

Instead, using a cellular phone, they can dial the nation`s first voice-activated 511 travel service line, which debuts Tuesday.

“We`re the first 511 service that is voice-enabled,” said Greg O`Connell of Tellme, the Mountain View, Calif.-based company that signed a 3-year, $1.8 million contract with the Utah Department of Transportation to run the service.

Tellme is one of several free, voice-activated services known as “voice portals” that use voice recognition software to retrieve and translate information from the Internet.

Taking their cues from spoken words, the services dispense stock quotes, horoscopes, driving directions, sports scores and other widely sought information over any telephone.


Utah was one of six states selected to launch a 511 service after the Federal Communications Commission in July 2000 officially designated 511 as a nationwide number for travel information. Like the emergency number 911, the 511 systems are a public service and free. Others states that will offer the 511 service include Kentucky, Nebraska, Minnesota, California and Arizona.

Utah`s 511 system comes online just in time for the Olympics. The Salt Lake Organizing Committee will be one of the participants in the 511 service, offering users games-related information such as event locations, driving directions, public transit instructions and tips for avoiding traffic snarls.

Other options include:
—Traffic, which will present information on collisions, congestion, construction and closures;
—Winter road conditions, which will advise on icy or snowy roads and whether snow tires or chains are required;
—Public transit, which offers hours of operation and general fares for buses and TRAX light-rail lines.

Utah`s 511 has been under construction about a year, said UDOT project manager Bryan Chamberlain. “The Olympics definitely were a motivating factor,” he said.

To get it rolling, UDOT had to coordinate with 45 telephone companies, as well as the Utah Transit Authority and SLOC.

In the future, Chamberlain said, they would like to include information about Salt Lake International Airport, Greyhound Bus Lines and transit agencies throughout the state. The added agencies would be asked to help defray the service`s $600,000 annual cost.