Waze expands its Bluetooth beacons to New York City to end GPS signal blackouts

Drivers in New York City will soon be able to use Waze — and other navigation apps — in places like tunnels or bridges where it’s common to lose a GPS signal.

The new capability is courtesy of small open-source puck-like devices called Waze Beacons that were invented in-house by Gil Disatnik, an engineer who now heads up the beacons program.

These battery-powered beacons broadcast an open standard signal via Bluetooth, which takes over for GPS to provide location data when a car passes through a tunnel. The beacons, which are powered by Eddystone beacon technology, can transmit messages directly to a smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth.

The company has partnered with New York’s MTA as well as the Port Authority of NY and New Jersey to install these beacons on bridges and in tunnels used to enter and exit Manhattan. The Waze Beacons are live, as of Tuesday, in the Holland Tunnel, Lincoln Tunnel, Queens-Midtown Tunnel and Hugh L. Carey (Brooklyn Battery) Tunnel. About 42 beacons per mile of tunnel are required, according to Waze.

“The Port Authority is strongly committed to leveraging new technology to improve the customer experience for the tens of thousands of travelers who use our crossings each day,” Port Authority Executive Director Rick Cotton said in a statement. “Last year, we launched our Crossing Time app that provides commuters with real-time traffic conditions at all agency bridges and tunnels. Today, we are activating new technology pioneered by Waze that will provide better GPS navigation capabilities for drivers as they drive through the Lincoln and Holland tunnels and MTA tunnels.”

The expansion to New York City follows a pilot launch last year in Chicago. Waze Beacons are installed in nine cities globally, including Boston, Pittsburgh, Rio de Janeiro, Paris,Oslo, Florence, Italy, Haifa, Israel, and Jihlava in the Czech Republic. The beacons, which cost $28.50 each, are open sourced. This means other navigation services can also use the program technology free of charge.