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Waze Moves To Solve ‘Tunnel Blindness’ With Beacons

The GPS data that crowd-sourced Waze relies on to provide drivers road navigation often gets blacked out by tunnels. Here's how Google Eddystone beacons from Bluvision could shine highbeams on those dark spots.

The strengths of GPS data for navigation are often taken for granted, but the weaknesses are often acute for drivers seeking second-by-second traffic updates.

The inability to “see” through deep concrete tunnels is one frustration that Waze hopes to solve for its users by placing beacons to broadcast data and info where GPS can’t reach.

The Google-owned company began placing sensors in tunnels last month with Florida beacon platform Bluvision to address “tunnel blindness” in the absence of GPS.

So far, the Bluetooth-powered devices have been installed in tunnels in Pittsburgh — where Google is currently testing its driverless cars — and in Haifa, where Waze was founded. Other cities being considered for the first rollout of Waze’s beacons include Paris and Rio de Janeiro, where the navigation app partnered with Visa and other brands during the 2016 Olympics.

“When selecting our Waze Beacons hardware partner, Bluvision was the only manufacturer that had the power rating of six years doing 0dBm @ 10Hz we needed to create Waze Beacons,” said Gil Disatnik, an engineer at Waze, in a statement. “Bluvision was a true partner, working through every question and request with enthusiasm to ensure the final product solved all of our needs.”

In order for drivers to access the information, they’ll of course have to make sure their Bluetooth signal is on. It’s not clear what sort of prompts they’ll receive to do so, however.

It’s also not clear if advertising messages will also find their way into Waze’s beacon tunnel project.

Apart from the marketing potential Waze’s solution presents, some of the “tweaks” to Bluvision’s proximity platform included faster frequency of beacon pings to get less error for a fast-moving vehicle and stronger transmission to get enough overlap between beacons coverage.

Bluvision’s beacons can be used to provide location accuracy within one-meter and promises to be far more accurate than standard RSSI, the company says. In addition, the beacons are IP67 water and weather-resistant, “making them both durable and reliable for harsh environment.”