January 7, 2020

The Many Faces of Geofencing

Written by Garret Weigel | Supply Chain

Geofencing is an emerging technology with many uses and much utility for a wealth of industries. When it comes to geofencing, some applications are interesting and stand out emblematically, showcasing the many uses it provides.


For example, cities are now using geofencing to control the use of mobile transportation devices such as scooters or bicycles that supplement pedestrian traffic. Cities are also limiting the type and number of micro-mobility devices such as e-scooters that move inside their boundaries. As riders test the limits, geofencing is used to remotely enforce speed as well as parking and allowable zones for these devices.


More specifically, in Santa Monica, California, geofences are used for their brigade of e-scooters within the city. An e-scooter user may go about their travels and have no idea there's a geofence boundary that they operate within. However, if they go outside the limit, they might be prompted to stop.


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Where’s the Kid and Where’s the Car?

In another example, geofencing is utilized inside the U.K. by parents who share a car with their children. Parents can track their children’s whereabouts and the car they are driving by utilizing geofencing technology. Vehicle owners can set up a specific area on a map that they would like their children to stay within. If they stray outside of it, parents will get a smartphone notification via a pre-designed app.


Fighting Wildfires with Geo-fences

Another notable application of geofencing is in disaster settings where knowledge of a location is not only critical to operational control but can save lives and provide immediate relief. In wildfire scenarios, as was seen on the Western Coast of the United States most recently, real-time geofencing allowed operators to be aware of wildfire incidents and keep first responders and firefighters away from such areas if they were in danger.


In such situations, a growing problem is that unmanned aircraft systems can intrude on the wildfire firefighting efforts. The Department of the Interior and their industry partners have activated a warning system to provide real-time alerts and geofencing alarms to disallow drone pilots from interfering with firefighting operations.


drone pilot

The pilot project by the DOI will make wildfire location data available to mapping providers, alerting drone pilots before they might enter the wildfire location.


Unbeknownst to many, privately flown drones pose some serious risks to firefighting aircraft. Helicopters and planes operated by contractors as well as the U.S. Forest Service often fly “low and slow” in smoke-obstructed areas. Pilots are preoccupied with positioning their aircraft to release water or other fire retardants. Drones pose a great safety risk as they enter airspaces near them and force those who are managing the emergency operation to delay or even curtail aerial operations.


A geofence can be a valuable asset in such cases. According to the Department of the Interior, there are more than 30,000 wildfires that have burned more than 2.7 million acres within the United States just this past year. More than 15 drone intrusions affected aerial firefighting in California, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Alaska, Minnesota, and Montana. In some instances, the aircraft actually had to be grounded because of the drone intrusion. In one incident in Utah, aerial operations had to be stopped five times because of the drones. However, this situation has improved since the use of geofencing, which wasn't quite engaged then. From 2014 to 2015, drone intrusions over wildfire incidents had doubled when 21 drones were spotted, and aircraft were grounded some six times.


All these examples demonstrate the value that geofencing can provide in everyday situations such as teenagers using their parents' cars, or in emergency situations where firefighters must combat dangerous wildfires without the interference of unregulated or prohibited drones. Our daily lives, how we shop, where we live, how we live, and how we ensure safety within our communities are situations where geofencing can enhance and improve an environment with more visibility and control.


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