Conversational AI platforms build chatbots to educate people on Covid-19

Annapurani. V Chennai | Updated on May 14, 2020

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As India fights Covid-19, the spread of misinformation about the pandemic — be it about the do’s and don’ts, the symptoms, the testing centres or the medical facilities available — has become another battle just as necessary to combat. A lot of chatbots are being built on this front in English as well as in regional languages to assist citizens with information on Covid-19.

“Our idea was to collate the right information and bring it on one single platform for ease of access and that is how the idea of a Whatsapp chatbot called ‘nCov helpdesk’ was born,” said Aakrit Vaish, CEO and Co-Founder, Haptik, an enterprise conversational AI platform.

The launch of this chatbot caught the eye of the government, after which it reached out to WhatsApp to enquire about it and expressed interest in doing something similar on a bigger scale for India, Vaish added.

“They then got in touch with Haptik and expressed their interest in launching their own helpline on WhatsApp — on cues of what we had already done with our chatbot — albeit on a bigger scale and with official information from the horse’s mouth,” Vaish said.

Haptik developed ‘MyGov Corona Helpdesk’, the Indian government’s WhatsApp chatbot, which was launched on March 20. It caters to the English and Hindi speaking WhatsApp audience and has a pre-existing option that provides users with a link to the State-specific chatbots.

‘When does travel open up?’

The bot disseminates information that includes the symptoms, the latest updates, and alerts on the pandemic. Nearly one million people used the service in the first three weeks of the launch and over 36 million conversations are being handled by the bot, Vaish noted.

“We started building the chatbot from ground up using data and content that the government wanted to provide via the helpline. It took us 4-5 days to build and deliver the chatbot according to what was expected by the government,” said Vaish.

He added that in terms of the nature of the queries they receive, they have moved very quickly from ‘How do I catch Covid-19’ and ‘How do I stay safe’ to ‘When are we going to open up?’, ‘How do we open up?’, ‘Can I go out?’, ‘Where do I get groceries?’, ‘How do I travel?’, ‘When does travel open up?’.

Leveraging WhatsApp

Yellow Messenger, another conversational AI start-up, in partnership with Facebook Messenger, also provided chatbots to the National Health Authority of India (NHA) and State governments such as Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Punjab, in April. These bots help people get on-demand information over NHA’s website and the State governments’ Facebook Messenger pages about how to assess Covid-19 risks, general information about hospitals, and tips on how to stay safe, etc.

Raghu Ravinutala, Yellow Messenger’s CEO and Co-founder, said that in under a month, over 1,00,000 people have engaged with their chatbots. He added that with the situation being very dynamic, they are working towards keeping the chatbots up to date. They are also currently building Covid-19 bots for companies such as Royal Enfield, Ravinutala said.

“To make users install our own app is a tedious task, hence we wanted to leverage the use of WhatsApp,” said Arun Babu Rajeswaran, founder of CareMe, a health and fitness platform. The firm, in collaboration with the Tamil Nadu government, launched a chatbot in March that provides information on the pandemic in both English and Tamil. Gupshup, a smart messaging services company, enabled CareMe go live on WhatsApp with its WhatsApp for business access API (application program interface).

Rajeswaran added that they will soon be launching a mental health chatbot on the company’s platform — which would support five languages (English, Hindi, Malayalam, Kannada and Tamil) — to connect people to therapists for free counselling and therapy sessions.

Published on May 14, 2020

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