Using AR to social distance

A video shows what the lens looks like and how to use it.

While having strangers in your personal bubble has never really been desired, it is definitely unwanted during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a means of decreasing the spread of the virus, the CDC recommends social distancing while in public. That can sometimes be easier said than done, however. Most public places such as stores try to help as best they can with floor markers placed six feet apart, but sometimes they aren’t there and sometimes other people pay no attention to them. So, how can you really know if you are keeping a safe social distance? The New York Times has an AR lens that can help with that.

The New York Times, one of the most widely popular New York City-based media outlets in the U.S., created an AR lens and 3-D simulation that show what social distancing is and why it is important. The article/simulation and lens can be found on The New York Times website and app and are there to help and inform anyone who finds themself in a social situation during the pandemic.

The AR lens is very useful in its purpose. It allows the user to ensure a distance of six feet from any nearby person by displaying a red circle that surrounds the user and extends six feet from them on the phone screen. It uses the camera to place the circle within the actual space that the user is standing in. Because of that, it also is a great utilization of AR. There really would be no other way of doing this.

Although useful, the lens may not always be convenient. If you’re at the grocery store, you probably need both of your hands available and can’t walk around with your phone in your face. You could use it only when stopped next to other people, but the number of steps it takes to pull up the lens may deplete the purpose. It also would drain your battery if used for extensive periods of time and will lose its purpose with the end of the pandemic (although it probably still has quite some time left).

While maybe not practical at all times, this use of AR is still a great idea for our specific situation. With the start of the pandemic, we were so used to not having to be aware of our distance from others, and this lens is a good way to develop that awareness.

Photos show visuals and instruction prompts seen while using lens.