Hey Siri, OK Google, Is my train on time?

Emma and I were running late the other morning, the clock ticking nearer 7:41 and causing a bit of rush with the morning commute. We took separate cars since we were coming home at different times. As I drove towards the station, the question I really wanted to know was “is the train on time?”. If there were two people in the car, one person could look it up but that wasn’t the case.

With current voice activated features I would need to say something very descriptive like “is the 741 from Hackbridge station to City Thameslink on time?”*. This is not the language I speak, it’s computer-speak not human language. Thinking human would be answering a question I would ask to the person next to me in the car.
*Train times command not available yet but it would be something like this so the computer could interpret it more easily.

This is a perfect scenario for an Intelligent Personal Assistant and it already has access to the data points it needs to answer my question:

  • The current time
  • My location using GPS
  • Train times using the National Rail’s API

The data that is currently difficult for a Siri-like assistant to get is my habits like “which train do I normally take, from which station to my normal destination”. This is currently not available in intelligent personal assistants, to my knowledge. However, it could guess based on the frequency of a location I visit at a certain time of day or, less technically, it could be manually provided by me as a setting.

Intelligent personal assistants are becoming standard in mobile devices with the likes of Siri, Google Now, Microsoft’s Cortana and Amazon Echo all competing for our voices. A recently added a feature activates the assistant by saying a phrase like “Hey Siri” or “OK Google”.

With this, combined with the knowledge of my daily routine, I expect “Hey Siri, is my train on time?” will not be far away. Apple, let me know when this is ready.

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The coffee mug experience AFTER you’re done

I received a Guinness coffee mug as a birthday present and I take to work in the morning and get it filled at Moh’s Coffee truck at Hackbridge train station. He makes a great coffee and even tailors it to my taste. I like using the mug because it doesn’t waste a paper cup and I don’t have to find a bin when I get off the train.
guiness_mug
The one problem I’ve encountered is that the coffee mug is designed in detail for coffee drinking (a must!) but not for after you’re done with the coffee. It could do a better job of handling the post-coffee drinking experience. Here’s my observations:
What I Enjoyed – the mug does well to optimise the drinking experience
  • Slider on the lid to prevent spillage
  • Insulated material to keep the coffee warm
  • Tiny air hole on the lid to help the coffee flow better
  • Lip on the lid to making drinking drip-free
  • Plastic insulation avoids the nasty metallic taste of metal lining
What annoyed me – post coffee drinking experience
  • The mug HAS to remain vertical – on its side, coffee leaks out the air hole and slots in the lid slider. On a train or tube journey, it’s almost inevitable that a mug in your bag, on your lap, or in the drink holder of your rucksack is going to go horizontal at some point. It could be on a busy train trying to balance the things in your possession or when you get to the office and put your bag down or arrive home and place it on the floor or counter. There are a lot of scenarios. My point is, coffee drips in your bag or on your clothes are annoying!
  • Cleaning – the lid is difficult to clean and requires scrubbing around the slider part of the lid where coffee congregates and hardens.
Observation: I don’t see many people using coffee mugs
With that being said, I’m a big fan of my coffee mug. When I look around, I don’t see a who lot of people who bring mugs to get coffee in the morning, at least not on the train. The vast majority are holding a cardboard cup from their favourite shop: starbucks, nero or costa to name a few popular choices. Why aren’t people using them more?
How do we get people to use their own mugs more?
A few ideas:
  • Incentivise – bigger discounts (most already have small) and advertise mug reuse more
  • Make people aware of the damage
  • Make them dead easy to clean – nobody likes a stinky coffee mug
  • Reminders – people forget to bring their mug into the shop