When a consumer drone flies too close to the White House, it might stop in mid-air as if running into an invisible fence. The drone’s GPS system is programmed to detect a virtual fence defined by downloaded data taken from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). FAA updates on no-go zones are fed into the database to keep restricted airspace safe. This technology helps protect airspace around the White House, airports, nuclear power plants and sites of public events such as the Super Bowl.
This is an example of geofencing, one popular application of location-based service (LBS) technology that has emerged over the past few years. LBS technology has been around since the 1990s, but with the emergence of smartphones over the past decade, the technology has matured and its applications have grown increasingly sophisticated. Here’s a look at some current trends in LBS technology, along with a preview of where location-based services are heading in the future.
From Cellular Geofencing to Apps
Initially, geofencing relied on cellular data. Today, the technology has shifted toward reliance on apps that use GPS and Wi-Fi data. This enables smartphone users to opt-in for location-based services, allowing apps to send signals when devices come within a specified radius. For example, a customer who has downloaded a store’s app might receive a text message with a discount offer when they walk by the store. Localytics senior content marketing manager Justina Perro recalls walking by a Sephora store in Boston when the store’s app gave her a reminder that she had some unused Christmas gift cards, prompting her to enter the store and buy $300 worth of merchandise.
Location-based Marketing Applications
One company putting LBS technology to use is Starbucks. Starbucks’ Mobile Order & Pay app lets customers in the store’s vicinity order before they walk in. The app embodies the restaurant industry’s vision of how LBS technology can boost orders while reducing wait times. So far the dream is half-realized. Customers eagerly embraced the new app, with widespread rapid adoption, which did lead to an upswing in orders. But the problem at high-traffic cafes was that this produced more orders than baristas could handle, scaring some customers away when they saw the long wait lines. However, Starbucks is reorganizing its order management policies to address this, and is confident that the new technology will achieve its original intent after the bugs are worked out. Other restaurants and retailers are adopting similar technology, and this trend can be expected to become widespread in the near future.
Other cutting-edge applications of LBS focus more on using global positioning for navigational purposes. For example, following a 2008 commuter train crash caused by an engineer texting while operating the train, Congress passed a law mandating that major passenger and freight trains install an automatic crash-avoidance system for emergencies caused by human error. In response, the industry has been developing a system that uses GPS data to determine where a train is, how fast it should be going and what’s happening on the approaching track. The technology is not yet perfected, but developers aim to have it in place between 2018 and 2020. Similar technology is projected to put driverless cars on the road by 2018.
Other innovative GPS applications are finding ways to help pedestrians navigate. For instance, Garmin’s fenix 3 watch uses GLONASS and Extended Prediction Orbit (EPO) technology to fix the wearer’s position more rapidly than standard GPS technology can, improving navigation for outdoor enthusiasts.
The Pokemon GO Effect
LBS technology impacted gaming in a big way in 2016 with Pokemon GO, which combined GPS with augmented reality to bridge the gap between virtual and physical gaming. The game not only proved enormously successful, but it generated some unexpected side effects.
For instance, a Duke University School of Nursing study found that Pokemon GO players are more likely to take 10,000 steps per day, contributing to cardiovascular health and weight loss. Industry watchers envision other medical applications for this technology, such as an app that reminds elderly users where their medicine is and how much they need to take.