Social distancing: Google's new tool lets you see a two-metre gap with AR

The experimental feature creates a two-metre bubble displayed on top of your real environment.
Written by Daphne Leprince-Ringuet, Contributor

With a global pandemic still keeping many countries on lockdown, social distancing has become the new normal whenever we step outside of our homes. 

Some find it easier than others, and in case the lines outside the supermarket haven't helped you work out what two metres looks like, the government has issued some useful tips: imagine, and constantly keep between other people and yourself, the length of a bed, of two benches, of three fridges or of four chairs.

SEE: Cheat sheet: Google Assistant (free PDF)

If that still doesn't help, Google has come up with a potentially better solution: the company has released an experimental tool dubbed Sodar, which uses WebXR to translate social distancing rules in AR. WebXR is a standard that Google implemented in Chrome for Android last year.

Sodar draws a two-metre radius around you by placing markers in AR onto your real-world environment. Through your phone screen, you can visualize exactly where your two-metre bubble starts and ends, so that you can immediately see if someone dares come in a little too close.


Sodar draws a two-metre radius around you by placing markers in AR onto your real-world environment.   

Image: Sodar/ Google

The tool was revealed by the Experiments with Google account on Twitter, which is run by coders trying new things with Chrome, AR, Android, WebVR and AI. By nature, the feature is in its infancy, and not yet designed for mass adoption.

In fact, it is only available on Chrome and Android devices, and isn't available as a standalone app. Rather, users will have to open a web browser and go to sodar.google.com, then allow access to their camera and, once the sensors have had time to adjust and the line has appeared, start walking around, ready to call out anyone getting too intimate.

Sodar won't work with some older devices, but any phone that supports AR for Search will likely be compatible with the new feature. If you're unsure, try Googling dogs, cats, pandas or even alpine goats, and see if you have the option to make them come out in an AR version, superimposed onto your living room sofa or kitchen table. 

If not, you'll just have to go back to what everyone else does to ensure that they are behaving safely in the context of the pandemic: that is, imagining those fridges or chairs.  

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