A Community Effort to Eliminate “Tunnel Blindness”

How two Waze Map Editors helped install 500 Waze Beacons

We’re excited to share that Chicago became the 8th city in the world to install and operate Waze Beacons: devices that stick to tunnel walls and transmit bluetooth signals to save Wazers from losing their way when routing through a tunnel.

The Chicago installation — one of our most complex to date–wouldn’t have been possible without the partnership of SpotHero, the city of Chicago, and two local Waze Map Editors who volunteered their precious weeknights to get things up-and-running.

The small & mighty Waze Beacon

Waze Beacons are the brainchild of Waze engineer Gil Disatnik, aka “The Waze Mole,” and were inspired by his own harrowing experience of getting lost while navigating a maze of tunnels in Boston.

Have you ever lost GPS signal right when you needed it most? That’s what Beacons are all about: making sure you’ll never get stuck in a tunnel without knowing your next turn.

Since launch in 2017, more than 3,000 Waze Beacons have been installed across nearly 60 miles of tunnels around the world. However, the maze of tunnels that run under downtown Chicago (sometimes 3-levels deep) presented the team with an especially unique and exciting challenge, namely: how could we make sure to provide directions for the road you’re Waze-ing on, and not the underground road two levels below?

To solve this, two of our incredible Waze Map Editors: Joe (aka joerodriguez12) and Patrick (aka HawkeyeGoal) stepped up to map this new “Chicago underworld” frontier. This involved reviewing aerial images, spending hours driving through tunnels, and updating hundreds of segments to ensure the Waze map provided accurate directions throughout the multi-level infrastructure.

A glimpse at just some of the roads that Joe & Patrick mapped in the Map Editor tool.

Then came the installation. According to Patrick “missing the opportunity to participate in [the Beacons’] deployment was not an option, and the chance to wear a CDOT vest was impossible to pass-up.” Over the 5-day installation period (all handled overnight), Joe and Patrick day joined Gil, SpotHero, and the CDOT (Chicago Department of Transportation) team.

A great crew, hard at work. Featuring the CDOT team, Gil (front row & center) and Joe (front row & right)

Map Editor Joe was responsible for recording where each Beacon was placed, adding them to the Waze Map and database, and working with SpotHero to add every parking lot to the map. Meanwhile, Editor Patrick handled driving tests and mapping idiosyncrasies on the lower levels. In his words: “I explored the lower decks in ways that would make Jake and Elwood proud [in reference to 1980’s classic The Blues Brothers].”

The team working hard all night to install one of 500 Waze Beacons in a Chicago tunnel.

The most magical moment of all? Joe shares, “The very first Waze Beacons test drive…getting a perfect route down Lower Wacker Drive.”

Wondering how you can get in on the fun? With Waze Beacon installations currently underway across 6 cities (more to come!), there are plenty of opportunities to help shape the future of transportation in your town.

Take it from Joe: join the Waze Map Editor community “meet awesome people and work on cool projects.”