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Do you lose your GPS signal in Boston’s tunnels? Maybe not for much longer

Barry Chin/Globe Staff/File 2011

You’ve probably been here before: You’re using your phone’s GPS to drive around Boston’s confusing network of roads and highways, and you enter a tunnel.

Then, you encounter a fork. Right or left? You glance at your GPS, but it has no idea where you are. You make a wrong turn and end up miles out of your way.

Now, MassDOT and the navigation app Waze are teaming up to allow your GPS to follow you into those Boston tunnels with the installation of hundreds of navigational beacons.

The devices will provide “seamless navigation to drivers underground where GPS signal is not possible,” according to a presentation from MassDOT. The agency says it’s aiming to improve safety in the tunnels with the new beacons, which it hopes will cut down on driver confusion.


The beacons were the pet project of a Waze system operations engineer named Gil Disatnik, who said he got frustrated when his service cut out underground as he was driving in Boston.

“As we evolve, we lose basic abilities — navigation is one of them,” Disatnik said. “We rely more and more on technology, and as an engineer, it’s our job to make technology always work.”

Disatnik said that beacons are already installed in Israel, Paris, Pittsburgh, and Brazil as part of a pilot program.

Now, more than 800 beacons will be installed in the Ted Williams, Central Artery, and O’Neill tunnels by the end of the month — though Disatnik warned an exact date is hard to pin down due to potential unforeseen project delays.

Once the beacons are in place, Waze users will be able to use the technology right away. And, the technology is on an unrestricted open platform, Disatnik said, meaning that apps like Google Maps and Apple Maps can use the beacons if they so choose.


“Anyone can pick this up,” Disatnik said. “We are not providing any software or anything like that from our end, but it’s an open platform, so they can use it in their app.”

Waze is providing the beacons at no cost to the state. In an effort to head off privacy concerns, MassDOT said they will not collect any data on drivers.

One of the beacons.Handout