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This Google app will help keep you safe from coronavirus

Published May 29th, 2020 7:31AM EDT
Coronavirus Social Distancing
Image: Darko Vojinovic/AP/Shutterstock

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  • Coronavirus social distancing practices should still be observed, even if governments have started lifting lockdowns measures, as the virus is still very contagious.
  • Google developed a new tool to help users ensure they’re keeping at least six feet away from other people, and it’s available right inside the Chrome browser.
  • The Sodar AR app will show you whether you’re at least six feet away from someone else, as long as you keep your phone turned on.

Social distancing measures may not be as strict as they were last month, but you should still try to stay away from people as much as possible when you’re outside. The novel coronavirus’s infection rate may have slowed in your area, but COVID-19 hasn’t magically disappeared, and it might never will. The only way to reduce transmissibility is to keep your distance from others, wear face masks, and wash your hands often. These activities should be priorities to anyone until we have drugs available to beat this thing. Keeping three to six feet away from others might be difficult to enforce, and the virus can travel well over six feet in the right conditions. But Google does have an app that can help you keep at least six feet between you and other people. Unfortunately, it’s still experimental, it works only on Android, and it requires you to keep the phone screen turned on at all times.

Called Sodar, the augmented reality (AR) app runs right inside the Chrome browser. You’ll have to visit this link from a mobile phone to get it started, at which point the browser will load the site, and use the rear camera to show you the world in front of you as well as a virtual barrier on top of it that signals the two-meter mark, or six feet.

As I said before, the massive downside of the app is that you need to keep your phone’s screen turned on at all times, which can deplete battery life. Also, looking at your phone while you’re walking isn’t exactly great, even if you can see where you’re going. Not to mention that it makes using the phone for other purposes more difficult.

Coronavirus social distancing AR app: Sodar from Google in action. Image source: Google

Finally, social distancing alone won’t guarantee that you won’t get infected. The six feet rule can’t be enforced at all times. And the virus can float in the air for a longer time, and reach farther distances. That’s why the use of face masks with social distancing could increase protection.

The concept is interesting, however, and could be used for future social distancing apps that could run on AR glasses at some point in the coming years.

Experts say that COVID-19 might never go away even if we get a vaccine. And if recent immunity studies are right, and the protection against the novel coronavirus lasts only between six months and a year, then COVID-19 will be here to stay for a much longer time than any of us would have imagined. And we might have to practice forms of social distancing for years to come until effective treatments are available worldwide. By then, the first commercial AR glasses that we’ll actually want to use might be out in stores, ready to support such apps.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.

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