I believe there are not many people remaining who have never seen one or another interpretation of a “force field” in science fiction. Be it Star Wars, Star Trek or Harry Potter, it is a transparent field protecting or hiding the maker. Imagining such a filed can help you understand what a “geofence” is. It is a virtual wall surrounding a specific area, passing of which can be registered by a sensor.
The difference is that your life and limb stay intact. Possible uses of such idea may not be obvious, but it is increasingly used in modern software. We will inspect possible uses further into the article.
HOW GEOFENCING STARTED
Early uses of geofencing actually correspond to the name of the idea a lot. They were fleet tracking among others. Using vehicle tracking system a fleet owner obtained an opportunity to receive an alert when a vehicle was leaving the operation area.
The idea has been around for some time but emergence was greatly hurdled by absence of cheap hardware and software. Now, when technologies such as GPS, Wi-Fi, etc. are ubiquitous it’s time for the idea to get the deserved attention.
HOW GEOFENCING IS REALISED TECHNICALLY
So, now one does not need a separate device for geofence purposes, several technologies can be used for it:
- Cellular and Wi-Fi technology;
- Region monitoring services by iOS and Andoird.
- NFC, etc.
As it usually goes, all of them have their merits and faults. For example, GPS provides exceptionally accurate position tracking, but it tends to drain the device’s battery in a matter of hours. Cellular and Wi-Fi technology combined together are quite moderate in energy expenditure, but cannot offer great accuracy of positioning – usually it is not practical to set an area to less than 100 meters, though some providers claim they can wind it down to 10 meters. As for Region Monitoring by Android and iOS – they are alas still perceived as rather buggy and inaccurate.
Those three seem to be the most widely used though other technologies are also utilised.
HOW IT IS USED NOW
There are already several areas in which geofencing is actively used and we believe there are some to join the herd still.
- Smart homes and personal planning
The most obvious solutions are connected with smart home setups and personal planning solutions. Just imagine: your smart thermostat starts your air conditioning when you exit your office building, the garage door opens when you pass the geofence 20 meters from your home, the lights are switched on when you pass the front door. As you are walking through the mall you receive a reminder to drop at the drycleaners and the drugstore as you pass them. At work your computer is locked as soon as your smartphone is farther then 1 meter away.All of this can already be achieved today using your smartphone and, for example, IFTTT (IF This Then That) – a recipe system that allows you to create scenarios like “If I’m leaving my home turn off the thermostat.”
- Animal and people tracking
Baby monitors are quite widely used at the moment, and people would be happy to use them not only for babies, but for older family members or may be pets. Setting a geofence on your home surroundings you will be able to prevent them from wandering off.
For example, Kenyan nature reserves are using geofencing to track elephants and send sms to the caretakers when elephants approach farmers’ fields.
- Security of equipment and locations
Another domain are security-connected tasks, for example, tracking of hardware such as tablets, meters, vehicles, etc. Whenever a piece of equipment leaves or enters the premises – thner receives a notification.
One more use case – tracking of personal drones especially in areas requiring special security measures such as airports, government buildings, stadiums during competitions, etc. At the moment drones create quite a headache for security services worldwide leading to such exotic solutions as using hunting birds. One of the suggested ways is to get drone manufacturers to agree to make geofencindatory for all produced devices.
- Retail and services
And finally, commercial use of geofencing for retail and service providers. There are of course some simple uses like offering coupons to passing customers or informing about discounts, items available on stock.
SOME FURTHER BENEFITS AND POSSIBLE USES:
- Using your existing CRM data you can receive alerts when a regular customer enters an area and provide personalised offers, coupons, discounts relevant to this customer.
- Offer a survey to a customer leaving your venue in exchange for some goodies.
- Gather information on the time spent inside your shop by comparing entrance and leaving time. Together with information from your CRM you will have a good overview of customer’s purchasing habits.
- Getting ROI data for print advertising is tough, but by setting a geofence around a billboard you can get at least the number of store visits from people who saw the board.
- Analyse the number of customers passing the store to accumulate information regarding “prime time”.
- Registering the time at which the user enters an area is a good way to offer seasonal discounts or prompt a purchase of relevant items – a cup of coffee in the morning, for example.
USAGE AND POSSIBLE PROBLEMS
- What kind of boundaries to set
Choosing the appropriate amount of geofences is a very important point especially in retail – you surely do not want annoy your customers with an update every two minutes when he/she is just walking in the shopping mall. In such case, 1 or 2 areas will make a more sensible choice.While it is possible to set a geofence around a competitor’s venue, it should be handled with caution, for example, offering a discount at the very moment your customer enters a competitor’s venue might feel rather spooky to a customer.
Though geofencing in not the same as tracking a person’s position all the time, as notifications are only sent if and when a boundary is crossed, nevertheless, legal issues should be settled properly and geofencing should be only active if confirmed by the customer. So, make sure that the customer has:
- Opted-in for push notifications;
- Opted-in for location services.
Of course, there should be a reason for the customer to opt-in – offer value in exchange – a discount, for example.
Do not track the customers, only monitor for crossing boundaries!
- Battery drain
As mentioned before, some of the technological solutions employed for geofencing may be rather energy-consuming. Nevertheless, even having the app running all the time may be a problem for the customer. So, a good solution is for the app to work in background and show notifications when necessary.
All in all, geofencing is a pretty exciting opportunity for both consumers and companies. We are sure there still much more good uses to be found for the technology. May be quite soon we will not need to perform check-out at the supermarket, as the products will be registered automatically, or products of your size will be highlighted on the store shelf at your approach.
- CBS News: Kenya Uses Text Messages To Track Elephant.
- Todd Humphreys: Don’t Overregulate Drones
- Patrick Leddy: 7 Things About Geofencing You’ll Kick Yourself For Not Knowing