Is geofencing a protective bubble or a heap of trouble?

Even if it were to end today, the COVID-19 crisis will leave an indelible imprint on the infrastructure of our lives. In addition to the painted lines, warning signs, and other low-tech indicators that attempt to keep people safely separated, we’re seeing greater interest in technological solutions to enforce quarantines of infected individuals and keep the coronavirus from spreading in crowds.

Geofencing for quarantine management

Although much attention has gone to contact tracing as a tool for tracking the virus’s spread, geofencing is a potentially more useful tool for enforcing these curve-flattening practices at the larger societal level, in every home, office, or other facility.

Geofencing systems monitor and enforce the virtual boundaries within which mobile, edge, and other devices—and their associated human users—roam. These systems can take various programmatic actions, such as sending an alert message, loading a device-level user interface, or issuing robotic commands when a device enters, exits, or moves around in a prespecified zone, as indicated by its GPS, RFID, Wi-Fi, and/or Bluetooth coordinates.

Chief providers of geofencing solutions are Thumbvista,, ESRI, GeoMoby, Apple, Pulsate, Mapcite, Swirl Networks, Bluedot, Mobinius, GPSwox, and Localytics.

The true power of geofencing lies in its ability to dynamically evolve the embedded rules, machine learning models, and other artifacts that constitute the social-distancing logic being enforced. Where management of COVID-19 quarantines is concerned, geofencing can be set up with human response loops. It can trigger a friendly reminder call or take a more stringent, systemic response, such as locking the doors of an isolation ward to prevent infected people from walking out.

Here’s one example of a geofenced human response loop. The Irish telecommunications company Hubbcat has proposed using geofencing to keep track of quarantined travelers who arrive in the country. The system was trialed in the Bahamas and is under evaluation by the Irish government. Arriving travelers would be required to download a Hubbcat geofencing app. Once the app is set up on a traveler’s smartphone, it would allow Irish authorities to create a virtual perimeter around the territory or facilities (such as a house or hotel) where travelers will be self-isolating during the required quarantine period.

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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