Edge of Innovation

Geofencing and the Electric Car

“Geofencing” is one of those features. Likely more familiar to techies obsessed with their mobile phones, geofencing is a GPS-based technology that sets an interactive digital boundary around a real geographic location. The technology has had many benefits for mobile phone users and is now sneaking into new automobiles.

Ford offers geofencing in a handful of its vehicles, including the F-150, F-Series Super Duty, Transit, and Transit Connect. Dubbed “Crew Chief,” the geofencing system helps fleet managers track where their vehicles are located, how much fuel they’re burning, and even how long a driver has left a vehicle idling.

Geofencing also has consumer-friendly benefits. A common feature in many Garmin navigation units, geofencing works as it does in mobile phones: connecting targeted ads to the consumer — in this case a car’s driver.

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The applications are endless

Picture this: you’re letting your 17-year old son take the family’s trusty Sedona out for a spin one summer evening, but with the explicit instruction of not taking his new girlfriend up to the town’s scenic overlook. The Sedona’s geofencing feature allows parents to set a digital boundary around a particular area, and they receive a notice if little Jimmy decides to break mom and dad’s rules.

Geofencing has also been recently implemented in a handful of luxury vehicles. Rolls-Royce recently rolled out its “satellite-guided” transmission on the new Wraith coupe. The GPS-aided transmission uses the car’s geographic coordinates to tell it a corner is coming up, engaging a downshift, which allows the Rolls to go through the corner both quicker and smoother than before.

Tesla has recently implemented geofencing via a software updated to the Model S. The technology allows the Tesla to remember when a driver regularly raises or lowers the car’s suspension at a specific point (like say, for a frequent speed bump), and from then on will raise and lower the suspension automatically at that coordinate.

While geofencing’s current functions are largely basic, the tech has tremendous potential for the future. Apple is rumored to be working on a system that wirelessly links your phone to your car. The car could theoretically detect when you and your phone have entered a pre-set digital boundary around the car, whereupon the car will ready itself for your arrival by turning on the air conditioning, pre-heating your seat and steering wheel, and cueing up your favorite play list from its infotainment system.

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Geofencing could also have tremendous benefits in the future as a tool to reduce city-wide emissions. Cities like London already charge drivers a congestion fee for driving on city roadways, unless the vehicles has a hybrid or electric powertrain.

The location-based technology could make hybrid vehicles like the Chevrolet Volt or BMW i8 switch from their internal combustion engines into electric mode as they enter the city, reducing pollution in the area.

“For example, you leave the house and the garage door closes automatically. You approach the house and the lights turn on and maybe my heater turns on,” he said.

Koslowski predicts that consumers will increasingly want geofencing incorporated into their new cars.

“By 2016 the majority of consumers in mature automotive markets like the U.S. will make connectivity in a car, which is what enables location-based services and geofencing, a key-buying criterion for their next vehicle,” he said.

With cars growing ever-connected to the cloud and its associated location-based services, geofencing will likely be making its way into more new vehicles. It’s only a short matter of time before something like geofencing becomes a must-have on your next ride.

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