Beacons in the Windy City

Bluetooth beacons could be the solution for drivers trying to find their way amid tall skyscrapers, multi-level highways and tunnels.

Ask Chicago.

Earlier in September, the city’s Department of Transportation installed more than 450 Bluetooth beacons along five miles of underground roadways in downtown Chicago. The beacons help drivers who use the Waze app to find their way in areas where GPS signals get lost.

“The feedback has been tremendous from the city and from Waze, and from the parking operators, that we partner with that have been impacted. Early indications look very good,” Elan Mosbacher, senior vice-president for strategy and operations at SpotHero, told FutureStructure – an initiative from the publishers of GOVERNING, Government Technology and Emergency Management.

SpotHero, a Chicago-based company that finds parking garages, lots and valet stands for drivers via mobile app, first raised concerns with city officials after irate drivers complained about not finding parking garages – especially the ones that could be accessed only via a lower road which has poor cell connection. Most navigation apps such as Waze or Google Maps or Apple Maps reply on cell service to accurately pinpoint destinations.

Subsequently, SpotHero entered into a partnership with Waze and the city DOT to install the Bluetooth beacons.

“City crews installed [the beacons] on five miles of these underground roadways — the main ones being Lower Wacker Drive, Lower Columbus, and Lower Michigan Avenue. People use them as through routes and also for access to parking as well as deliveries,” said Mike Claffey, director of public affairs at the Chicago Department of Transportation, told FutureStructure.

SpotHero paid for the cost of the hardware, Waze provided the technology and the city provided the regulatory approvals and the installation of the equipment. The Waze Beacons Program has also outfitted roadways in Pittsburgh, Pa., along with international locations in Brazil, Italy, France and others.

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