The term is popping up more frequently in news articles, appearing in product manuals, and highlighted as a feature in tons of mobile applications, but what exactly is geofencing? Read on as we explain what it is, why it’s appearing in more productions and applications, and how you can benefit from using it.

What Is Geofencing?

Geofencing is the use of the Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite network and/or local radio-frequency identifiers (such as Wi-Fi nodes or Bluetooth beacons) to create virtual boundaries around a location. The geofence is then paired with a hardware/software application that responds to the boundary in some fashion as dictated by the parameters of the program.

While geofence-based hardware and software solutions have been around for decades, the early systems were limited largely to those willing to invest in expensive custom hardware for specific use cases. One of the early commercial uses of geofencing was in the livestock industry wherein a handful of cattle in a herd would be equipped with GPS units and if the herd moved outside of geographic boundaries (the geofence) set by the rancher then the rancher would receive an alert. Similar systems were deployed to safeguard and monitor company vehicle fleets wherein if a company vehicle left the zone it was assigned to managers at the company would be notified.

That’s all very interesting but as someone not running a cattle farm or a delivery fleet you’re probably asking yourself “How does this apply to me? Your title said I should be using geofencing!” So how does it apply to you?

The widespread adoption of smartphones has put a GPS/Wi-Fi/Bluetooth radio in the pockets of millions of consumers and ushered in an age of incredibly cheap and ubiquitous geolocation markers that has pushed geofencing from an expensive commercial practice into the realm of consumer application. What used to be a very costly tool for very specific applications is now free for developers to include in their software as the consumer already has the necessary hardware. As a result geofencing capabilities are popping up in everything from shopping lists to smart home control packages.

In other words, there’s a whole world of geofencing potential around you worth tapping into. Your smartphone is capable of reminding you to pick up the dry cleaning when you’re near the dry cleaners, of turning down the thermostat when you drive away from your house, and all other manner of handy location-based tricks.

Now that we have a clearer picture of what geofencing is, let’s take a look at real-world applications you can start using today.

Geofencing in Application

Geofencing has crept into a wide range of applications over the last few years and has improved everything from to-do lists to household management.The following examples are merely that, examples culled from a wide range of available applications intended to highlight the diverse ways in which application developers are using geofencing. If you have a favorite app we’ve failed to mention here, by all means jump into the comments at the bottom and share the app.

The Future of Geofencing

Although still unfamiliar to many people geofencing is a natural extension of our desire for our devices to do more (and to do more automatically) and to decrease the friction with which interact with our environment.

As devices become increasingly sophisticated and more elements of our home, vehicles, and workplace enter the ever growing stable of “Internet of things” objects expect to see geofencing applied to more and more devices and environments.

This increased integration could yield all sorts of novelties like workstations that power down when their owners leave for the building, coffee pots that turn on in the morning when the first coffee drinkers arrive, attic fans that whirl to life to suck in cool evening air as you drive home, garage doors that open automatically as you round the bend, and all manner of little changes that leave the computers to worry about the trivial bits while we get to focus on things more interesting than wondering if we locked the back door properly.