Increasingly, operators of vehicle fleets such as shared electric scooters, delivery trucks and school buses are turning to a technology called geofencing to ensure safe, efficient and appropriate use of their vehicles. The shrinking cost of the technology is also enabling smaller vehicles and professional assets to be tracked and managed cost-effectively.
What Is Geofencing?
According to Dev Bhatia, chief marketing officer for Momentum IoT, a geofence is a virtual border drawn around a location or area on a map. The perimeter of that border is set and managed typically by a fleet manager, using either a handheld or desktop computer application.
“To set up a geofence platform,” he explains, “you need three things: a small ‘edge’ device that can establish the GPS location of an asset, 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 are attached to a vehicle or other asset for tracking, are usually about the size of a cellphone and enabled by a GPS chipset, adds Bhatia. They can be plugged into the power system of a vehicle or use small, portable batteries. The devices are usually leased to fleet operators for a few dollars per month, per vehicle.
Thinking Outside the Fence
The benefits of geofencing are as varied as its applications. The edge devices are often paired with accelerometers, for example, to allow fleet managers to know not only where their vehicles are, but also when they stop and start moving.
Operators of school bus fleets, for example, can use geofencing to ensure that bus drivers are not exceeding designated speed limits, leaving their designated routes or lingering too long in any one location, all of which can add expense and liability to a school district ledger. Geofencing can also help fleet managers monitor and verify 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 utility trucks or plumbing trucks optimize their routing, which can enhance both operational efficiency and cash flow for the business.
“An operator of service trucks can drop a location pin at each job site, then create a geofence around each pin,” he explains. “With a geofencing app, the fleet manager can then monitor when vehicles enter and exit those service locations and make real-time decisions about which truck is closest and most available to go to the next job site.”
Ensuring Safe, Responsible Riding
Micromobility startup Superpedestrian uses geofencing to monitor the behavior of its LINK e-scooter riders.
According to Lou Alejo, a company software engineer, Superpedestrian has recently introduced a new application called Pedestrian Defense that monitors both the speed and location of its scooter fleet at all times. This data helps ensure the safety of LINK riders and compliance with local city ordinances.
“Pedestrian Defense uses a combination of GPS data, scooter sensor data and machine learning to determine a scooter’s location with pinpoint accuracy,” says Alejo. “It then maps that data against rules for geofenced areas to ensure riders follow the local rules at all times.”
In cities where sidewalk riding of e-scooters is not allowed, for example, the app brings the LINK scooter to a full stop within seconds of a rider trying to ride it on the sidewalk. It also detects and prevents wrong-way riding and aggressive swerving. And at the end of a ride, it enforces safe parking of the scooter.
Taking Care of Business
As the cost of producing and leasing geofencing technology has come down, observes Bhatia, so too has the size of objects and assets that can now be tracked with geofencing technology.
His company offers a beacon-like device called a Toolie that can be attached to individual tools. A geofence set up around a GPS-enabled device on the truck carrying these tools can help a construction manager know, for example, if tools are no longer within the geofence and that they may have been left behind.
“Geofencing coupled with Toolies can definitely help fleet managers keep track of smaller, less expensive assets without the need for lots of real-time phone calls between the manager and his workers,” observes Bhatia.
Increasingly, he adds, geofences are also used to provide security for construction assets or other equipment assigned to a fixed location for a fixed period of time.
“We can set a geofence around an asset such as a light tower or a porta potty,” Bhatia suggests. “If that equipment moves outside the geofence we have to assume either it’s been stolen or an unauthorized person is messing with our equipment. This technology can definitely help manage costs for ‘fleets’ of stationary and mobile equipment alike.”
Adding Automation and Flexibility
Geofencing technology is also becoming more automated and hence better able to support dynamic urban requirements, notes Alejo.
“It used to be that geofences were either on all the time or off all the time for a given geographic location,” he says. “We could change their status and the requirements for that zone, but that required a lot of manual technician time.”
Scheduled geofencing, which Alejo helped develop at Superpedestrian, changed all that.
Now, he continues, a city can set up dynamic geofences around areas such as major league ballparks or schools. With scheduled geofencing, scooter riding might be allowed during non-school hours or on weekends, or in a city during the baseball offseason. Scheduling information loaded on the scooter, however, would enforce lower speed limits during school hours, or prevent any riding at all at times before, during and after games when pedestrian baseball fans might be entering or leaving a stadium.
“Scheduled geofencing definitely helps ensure safety for riders and pedestrians alike, and it helps cities feel like they’ve got greater control over the flow of traffic within their boundaries,” says Alejo.
Geofencing scheduling information is uploaded to LINK scooters on a regular or as-needed basis, he adds.
Tracking What’s Next
In Bhatia’s estimation, geofencing technology will continue to get smaller, cheaper and more capable. And as that happens, the size and value of assets tracked and managed by geofences will also continue to shrink.
“People traditionally have associated geofencing technology with long-haul trucks, but as the costs and size of the technology shrink, we’re just as likely to use it to manage fleets of golf carts or jackhammers,” he suggests.
So what is geofencing going to look like in the future? If the history of technology is any indicator, Bhatia says, humans will continue to come up with 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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