Google smartphone tool helps users maintain social distance

Sodar program taps into Android cameras, augmented reality technology, to visualize on screen a safe perimeter around user

A smartphone sets a 2-meter (6.5 foot) perimeter for safe social distance, May 29, 2020. (Glenn Chapman/AFP)
A smartphone sets a 2-meter (6.5 foot) perimeter for safe social distance, May 29, 2020. (Glenn Chapman/AFP)

Smartphone users have a new way to keep their distance — a tool that lets them know when people are getting closer than pandemic guidelines recommend.

The Google-developed Sodar tool available this week taps into Android smartphone cameras to put users in the center of a white circle with a radius of about two meters, or 6.5 feet.

The perimeter, determined based on pandemic social distancing guidelines, is made using the same kind of augmented reality technology in smartphone games such as Pokemon Go.

Circles superimposed on surroundings move with users, keeping smartphones in the center. Users get a visual warning when they are within the potentially hazardous radius.

Sodar works through Google-made Chrome browsers on Android smartphones that support augmented reality, according to the California-based internet firm.

“This experiment uses [the application program interface] WebXR to visualize 2-meter social-distancing guidelines in your environment,” a message on the firm’s website said.

The tool came out of an “Experiments With Google” project on technology hacks to help people cope with the coronavirus pandemic.

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