With a vaccine still several months away (as per experts), “Keep a distance of around two meters” is the mantra for survival in this COVID crisis. The problem of course is figuring out just how much this distance is. Most phones have measurement tools (like Measure on the iPhone) but those are more to measure the length and breadth of places, rather than the distance of objects from you. Well, Google is now trying to fix that, with a tool called Sodar.
Sodar is a Chrome extension. It runs within the Chrome browser and according to Google, it uses “WebXR to help visualize 2m social distancing guidelines in your environment.” In simple English, it means that it uses augmented reality to show two meters of distance around you. It is not meant for measuring distances or anything – it is just about showing two meters around you.
Sodar – use WebXR to help visualise social distancing guidelines in your environment. Using Sodar on supported mobile devices, create an augmented reality two meter radius ring around you. #hacktohelp https://t.co/Bu78QrEN9f pic.twitter.com/kufatNFDQk
— Experiments with Google (@ExpWithGoogle) May 28, 2020
Using Sodar is very easy. You just have to launch Chrome on your Android browser and go to https://google.com/sodar or https://sodar.withgoogle.com/. All you have to do is hit the big green Launch button on the lower part of the site. There will be a pop up asking for your permission to “Enter AR from sodar.withgoogle.com“, assuring you that while the site will create a 3D map of your surroundings and use the camera to track motion, the site will not see the camera footage. Tap on “Enter AR”. This will launch the camera and as in all AR apps, it will ask you to move the camera over the ground around you to get an idea of your location. After that, you are in the AR zone.
What the app does is rather basic, but is very useful. It creates an AR circle with a two-meter radius with you right at the center. What you get to see on the display of your phone is a curved lined with “2m” written on top of it. The area within it is dotted, and the area beyond it is normal. And it changes as you move. Basically anyone in the dotted zone is less than 2 meters away from you. No, there is no way of adjusting the distance – say, if you want to make it 6 feet rather than 2 meters, as some recommend, there is no way in which to do so. There is also no notification or alarm to let you know that someone is within 2 meters of you. It works fine in landscape and portrait as well, which is handy. Of course, it is not inch-perfect in terms of measurement but it gives you a rough idea of distance around you, which is what really counts right now.
It is very basic right now, but Sodar is easy to use and very handy. It would be great if Google could make it a proper app or a widget at least, but even in its current, it seems very useful indeed for the times we live in. In the meantime, you can add a shortcut to it on your homescreen (just choose the “Add to Home screen” option in Chrome to save you the need of launching Chrome every time you use it.
Sodar is currently available for Google Chrome on Android, and no, it does not work on iPhones. Not yet anyway. It also does not work as smoothly on all Android phones (phones need to be ARCore compatible), too, although it has worked perfectly fine on the Xiaomi Mi 10, the Samsung Galaxy S20+, and of course, the Pixel 3 XL. Definitely worth a try in these trying times, we think.