You’re driving along, whistling a merry tune while guided by a GPS-powered contraption plastered to your windscreen, when all of a sudden darkness descends as you enter a tunnel and you kiss goodbye to your satellite navigation smarts.
This common conundrum is one that Google-owned GPS driving app Waze is trying to solve through Waze Beacons, a new program that’s open to cities and tunnel operators to help cars and trucks continue seamlessly on their travels.
Waze partnered with Florida-based sensor beacon startup for the initiative. The units are essentially low-energy microcontrollers powered by batteries, designed for installation on tunnel walls. The beacons are configured to communicate with smartphones using Bluetooth, rather than GPS, and are built on Google’s open beacon format, Eddystone.
The devices are designed to provide more accurate arrival times, given that Waze can now “see inside” tunnels and provide a clearer idea of what the traffic is like with live traffic updates.
Though the beacons have been developed by Waze and come with its branding, they’re actually being opened up to other navigation services for free.
At the time of writing, the beacons are available in a handful of tunnels across Pittsburgh and in Haifa, Israel, with Paris and Rio de Janeiro being added to the mix soon. They’re $28.50 per beacon, and Waze estimates that roughly 42 are required for every mile of tunnel. Crucially, drivers don’t have to do anything to benefit from the technology, apart from ensuring Bluetooth is enabled on their device.
Founded out of Israel in 2007, Waze has built a sizable user base and community for the way it lets users share real-time traffic data, and it’s this that prompted Google to acquire the company for more than $1 billion back in 2013.
The company has also been looking to ramp up its partnerships in recent times to improve real-time traffic data — last month Waze revealed it was looking to collaborate with event organizers, including marathon organizers and stadium operators, to improve traffic congestion. In return for advance information on planned road closures and real-time updates to traffic information, Waze is offering custom access to its traffic management technology and communications channels.