Frustrating underground GPS dropouts will soon be a distant memory for Sydney motorists, as the city becomes the second in Australia to receive special bluetooth beacons in a select number of its tunnels.
Sydney has joined Brisbane in introducing the new Waze-designed technology, which is able to provide phone navigation systems with a bluetooth signal even when GPS coverage is not available.
WestConnex New M4 Operations and Maintenance Manager Peter Redwin said the technology allows motorists to maintain "seamless navigation ... even when they're 50 metres below the surface".
More than 500 beacons have been active for around a month in 5.4 kilometres of Sydney's recently-opened M4 tunnels (opened in July 2019), with plans to roll out the technology in 9km of the new M5 tunnels (opening mid-2020) and 7.5km of the M4-M5 Link tunnels (opening in 2023).
A Transurban WestConnex spokesperson said the company was also exploring adding the tech to the city's Rozelle Interchange (opening in 2023).
"People can assume we’ll be rolling it out within 3-6 months of opening the next stages of tunnels," the spokesperson said.
In an Australian first, Transurban introduced more than 930 bluetooth beacons to 18 kilometres of Brisbane tunnels in November 2019, with the technology currently operational in the city's AirportlinkM7, Clem7 and Legacy Way tunnels.
Along with aiding driver convenience, Transurban revealed safety was the major catalyst for introducing the beacons to Sydney, with confused or lost drivers engaging in dangerous behaviours like late weaving or stopping in the middle of the tunnel,
The beacons, which will likely not be visible to drivers due to their small size, have been developed by Israeli-founded (now Google-owned) navigation app Waze, but Waze has made the technology available to any and all GPS providers.
While Brisbane's beacons are compatible with both the Waze and Google Maps apps on Android and Apple phones, Google Maps users in Sydney can only utilise the beacon technology on Android phones, with a rollout on Apple phones expected later this year.
As for whether the in-built navigation systems in cars will be able to access the tech, a Transurban spokesperson says it's unlikely.
"Other GPS device manufacturers are able to integrate the beacon technology into their navigation devices," the spokesperson explained.
"Existing or older GPS-only navigation systems, like those built into some cars, are unlikely to be able to access the beacons’ bluetooth signal, however with the popularity and ease of smartphone based navigation apps, most motorists should be able to benefit from the new navigation beacons."
Implementation of the technology also comes down to the length of the tunnels, a Transurban spokesperson said.
"It’s about how long the tunnels are – some of the tunnels aren’t long enough to warrant it."
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Transurban in Melbourne said it was "currently looking into a range of options to improve GPS connectivity through our Burnley and Domain Tunnels, and eventually through the West Gate Tunnel".
Similar technology is already in use around the world and cities in the United States, Brazil, France and Israel have been utilising it since 2016.