Operators of vehicle fleets such as shared electric scooters, vans, and school buses are increasingly turning to a technology called geofencing to ensure safe, efficient, and appropriate use of their vehicles. The declining cost of the technology is also making it possible to track and manage smaller vehicles and professional assets cost-effectively.
What is geofencing?
According to Dev Bhatia, Momentum IoT’s chief marketing officer, a geofence is a virtual boundary drawn around a location or area on a map. The scope of this limit is typically set and managed by a fleet manager using a handheld or desktop computer application.
“To set up a geofence platform,” he explains, “you need three things: a small “Edge” device that can determine the GPS location of an object, a connection from that device to a cloud server, and a connection from the server to an application on a smartphone or desktop computer.”
Geofencing devices, which attach to a vehicle or other object to locate it, are typically about the size of a cellphone and are activated by a GPS chipset, Bhatia adds. They can be plugged into a vehicle’s power system or use small, portable batteries. The devices are typically leased to fleet operators for a few dollars per month per vehicle.
Think outside the fence
The advantages of geofencing are as diverse as its possible uses. For example, the edge devices are often paired with accelerometers so fleet managers not only know where their vehicles are, but also when they stop and depart.
School bus fleet operators, for example, can use geofencing to ensure bus drivers don’t exceed set speed limits, don’t deviate from their set routes, or linger in one place for too long, all of which can add to the cost and liability of a school district book. Geofencing can also help fleet managers monitor and audit the driving behavior of their bus operators, should it ever be questioned by the local community.
According to Bhatia, geofencing can also help fleet operators of commercial vehicles or plumbers optimize their routes, which can improve both operational efficiency and cash flow for the business.
“A service vehicle operator can set a location pin at each job site and then create a geofence around each pin,” he explains. “Using a geofencing app, the fleet manager can then monitor when vehicles enter and exit these service locations and decide in real time which truck is closest and best available to drive to the next job site.”
Ensuring safe and responsible driving
Micro-mobility startup Superpedestrian uses geofencing to monitor the behavior of its LINK e-scooter riders.
According to Lou Alejo, a software engineer at the company, Superpedestrian recently launched a new application called Pedestrian Defense that monitors both the speed and location of its fleet of scooters at all times. This data helps ensure the safety of LINK drivers and compliance with local city ordinances.
“Pedestrian Defense uses a combination of GPS data, scooter sensor data and machine learning to pinpoint a scooter’s location,” says Alejo. “Then it maps that data to geofence area rules to ensure drivers are compliant with local regulations at all times.”
For example, in cities where riding e-scooters on sidewalks is not allowed, the app will bring the LINK scooter to a standstill within seconds if a driver tries to ride it on the sidewalk. It also detects and prevents wrong-way driving and aggressive swerving. And at the end of a ride, it forces the scooter to park safely.
take care of business
As the cost of manufacturing and leasing geofencing technology has decreased, Bhatia observes, the size of objects and assets that can now be tracked with geofencing technology has also decreased.
His company offers a beacon-like device called the Toolie that attaches to individual tools. A geofence placed around a GPS-enabled device on the truck transporting those tools can help a site manager, for example, see if tools are no longer within the geofence and may have been left behind.
“Geofencing coupled with toolies can definitely help fleet managers keep tabs on smaller, lower-cost assets without requiring lots of real-time phone calls between the manager and their staff,” notes Bhatia.
Increasingly, geofences are also used to secure construction or other facilities that are housed at a fixed location for a certain period of time.
“We can put a geofence around an asset like a light pole or a porta potty,” suggests Bhatia. “If this equipment moves outside of the geofence, we have to assume that it has either been stolen or an unauthorized person is tampering with our equipment. This technology can definitely help control the costs of “fleets” of stationary and mobile devices alike.”
Adding automation and flexibility
Geofencing technology is also becoming increasingly automated, making it better able to support dynamic urban demands, notes Alejo.
“Previously, geofences were either always on or off for a given geographic location,” he says. “We were able to change their status and the requirements for that zone, but that required a lot of manual tech time.”
Planned geofencing, which Alejo helped develop at Superpedestrian, changed all that.
Now, he continues, a city can set up dynamic geofences around areas like major league stadiums or schools. With scheduled geofencing, scootering may be permitted outside of school hours or on weekends or in a city during baseball’s off-season. However, scheduling information loaded onto the scooter would enforce lower speed limits during school hours or prevent all driving before, during and after games when pedestrian baseball fans might be entering and exiting a stadium.
“Planned geofencing definitely helps ensure safety for cyclists and pedestrians alike, and it makes cities feel like they have better control over the flow of traffic within their borders,” says Alejo.
Geofencing scheduling information is uploaded to LINK scooters on a regular basis or as needed, he adds.
Keep track of what’s coming next
According to Bhatia, geofencing technology will continue to get smaller, cheaper and more powerful. And when that happens, the size and value of assets tracked and managed by geofences will continue to shrink as well.
“People have traditionally associated geofencing technology with long-haul trucks, but as the cost and size of the technology shrinks, we’re just as likely to use it to manage fleets of golf carts or jackhammers,” he suggests.
So what will geofencing look like in the future? If the history of the technology is any indicator, Bhatia says, people will continue to find new and more innovative ways to apply geofencing technology.
“We’re nowhere near the endpoint of use cases for geofencing technology in terms of size, cost, or capability,” he claims. “I can’t wait to see what’s next.”
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