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To address train passengers’ queries Indian Railways adds chatbots



Indian Railway, Indian Railways, Chatbots, Rail sector, Train-related queries, Live train running status, Artificial Intelligence, Microsoft, Oracle, Software giants, Business news

New Delhi: Indian Railways is exploring the use automated chatbots, a first for the rail sector, so as to respond faster to train-related queries and enhance customer experience.



The possibility of use of chatbots were showcased at a recent railway conference on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and a high-level committee is being constituted to take it forward-in close coordination with one of the software giants — Microsoft or Oracle.

Chatbot, short for chatterbot, is a computer programme that simulates human conversation through voice commands or text chats, or both, using AI.



According to the action plan being actively considered by the national transporter, the chatbots would address queries on schedules, ticket availability, trains for particular destinations and other such rail travel-related issues.


Indian Railway explores chatbots to address train passengers’ queries:


Currently the system relies on manual or SMS/IVRS technology for addressing passengers queries.

The existing customer service over phone needs one to pick up the phone, dial the number and, finally, the response is some pre-fed text which is read by the customer representative from screen.



“Now there is a plan to use the advancement of AI technology for customer service, as the idea is ubiquitous,” said a senior Railway Ministry official.

“The application can be deployed on a smartphone or laptop and can be used through voice chat or text chat,” he added.



Chatbots cannot be human, but they can think and respond to queries like humans do — and devoid of human bias. Their use is emerging as the next big platform for information exchange for today’s smartphone-carrying generation.



India rejects Walmart-owned Flipkart’s proposed foray into food retail business.



The Indian government has rejected Flipkart’s  proposal to enter the food retail business in a setback for Walmart, which owns a majority of the Indian e-commerce firm and which recently counted its business in Asia’s third-largest economy as one of the worst impacted by the global corona virus pandemic.

The Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade (DPIIT), a wing of the nation’s Ministry of Commerce and Industry, told Flipkart, which competes with Amazon India, that its proposed plan to enter the food retail business does not comply with regulatory guidelines — though it did not elaborate, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Rajneesh Kumar, chief corporate affairs officer at Flipkart, told Tech Crunch that the company was evaluating the agency’s response and intended to re-apply.

“At Flipkart, we believe that a technology and innovation-driven marketplace can add significant value to our country’s farmers and food processing sector by bringing value-chain efficiency and transparency. This will further aid boosting farmers’ income and transform Indian agriculture,” he added.

While announcing the plan to enter the nation’s growing food retail market, Kalyan Krishnamurthy, Flipkart Group CEO, said in October last year that the company planned to invest $258 million in the new venture.

Flipkart planned to invest deeply in the local agriculture-ecosystem and supply chain, and work with tens of thousands of small farmers, their associations and the nation’s food processing industry, Krishnamurthy said. The food retail unit would help “multiply farmers’ income and bring affordable, quality food for millions of customers across the country.”

Several e-commerce and grocery firms in India, including Amazon, Zomato and Grofers, have previously secured approval from New Delhi, which currently permits 100% foreign direct investment in food retail, for entering the food retail business.

A Flipkart executive, who did not want to be identified, said they were “at a loss of words” to assess on what ground their application was rejected.

Food and grocery are compelling categories for e-commerce businesses in India as it enables them to engage with their customers more frequently. According to research firm Forrester, India’s online food and grocery market remain significantly tiny, accounting for just 1% of the overall sales.

In the most recent quarterly earnings call, Walmart  said limited operations at Flipkart had negatively affected the group’s overall growth. New Delhi announced one of the world’s most stringent lock downs across the nation in late March that restricted Amazon and Flipkart from delivering in many states and only sell “essential items,” such as grocery and hygienic products.

India maintains the stay-at-home orders for its 1.3 billion citizens, though it has eased some restrictions in recent weeks to resuscitate the economy.


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