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Have better signal on Lower Wacker? City installs Waze devices

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More than 400 Waze Beacons aim to get navigation working on Chicago’s lower level roads

Lower Michigan Avenue Bridge

Lower Wacker can be a nightmare. Navigation apps can’t tell where you are and ride-hailing apps go haywire. The lack of signal is a major hassle especially if you’re dependent on technology to get around. Recently, more than 400 devices were installed on five miles of lower level roads to increase reception—could this be the end frazzled map apps?

A new partnership between Waze, Spot Hero, and the city has started to combat signal blackout on Chicago’s multi-level streets, hopefully ending the anxiety of getting lost underground.

The technology transmits a low-powered Bluetooth signal as an alternative option when GPS isn’t possible. It helps with location services so apps like Waze, Google Maps, Apple Map, Uber, and Lyft will work better. The small devices are battery powered and don’t collect any data on users.

While the program is from Waze, the Chicago Department of Transportation owns the devices. Over Labor Day weekend workers installed the beacons on Lower Wacker Drive, Lower Lower Wacker Drive, Lower Columbus Drive, and Lower Michigan Avenue. Each beacon costs about $28.50, according to Waze’s website, so the bill for better reception comes to at least $11,400 for the devices.

The idea for the beacons came after a Waze engineer lost a GPS signal driving through a Boston tunnel which caused him to miss his exit for the airport. The program was launched in 2016, and now exists in Boston and Pittsburgh. It’s also in Brazil, France, Italy, Israel, and the Czech Republic. More than 3,000 Waze Beacons have been installed on 42 miles of streets worldwide.

If you aren’t familiar with Waze, which was acquired by Google, it started out as a game-like navigation app to help drivers find routes around major traffic. While it has definitely helped people find their destination quicker, not everyone is happy about it.

Have you noticed a difference on Chicago’s double-decker streets? Let us know!