Delvewise - Portfolio of Nick Marsden

Seattle Bridges: An Alexa Skill for checking the Draw Bridges in Seattle

On my first time flying back to Seattle from a visit with family in San Diego in the winter of 2017 it happened, I finally came face to face with the 99 HWY draw bridge, known as 1st Ave S bridge. In an Uber and unfortunately broke, the shock that a major vein of transportation infrastructure with little warning to those on the highway and none for those driving could close access for up to 15 minutes was annoying but the +$50 cab fair left a sting. 


While in the Uber, I searched Google and found that the Seattle Department of Transportation thought the same thing and made an automated alert for all 7 draw bridges in Seattle on Twitter @SDOTbidges. Based on the reaction of my uber driver this wasn’t common knowledge or something actionable as he vaned interest. Seattle DOT went the extra mile by broadcasting the bridge status on Twitter but their go-to-market was half-baked as the information wasn’t ubiquitous.


About a year later, I was deep into my training to learn Python via the Internet and came across a Sentdex tutorial on programming Alexa Skills and instantly knew what I wanted to solve, the ubiquity of Seattle’s draw bridge statuses. Little did I know, this Alexa Skill would be more than just a stretch goal, it was my white whale as a self-instructed programmer.


It ended up taking me about 18 months and 3 different attempts, which in hindsight is embarrassing but I never programmed beyond simple web development at that point and I was working alone with the only guides being Youtube, blog posts, and past questions on Stack Overflow. To be frank, I am glad it was mind-numbingly difficult as the struggle led to me learning how to program more, iron out some misconceptions, and how to deploy with AWS. 


If you live in Seattle please feel free to download the Alexa Skill by it’s Invocation name, Seattle Bridges. I hope it helps some of your commutes until I can get approval from Waze to provide the traffic info. For information is only as useful as its ability to reach those that it will better, aka its ubiquity.


To be Continued...

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