Smartphones are now capable of a wide range of tasks that were once thought impossible to port around. For instance, you no longer need expensive GPS setups on your car - a GPS-enabled phone is more than enough. You can edit documents on the move, feed data into and retrieve reports from extensive ERP systems on your phone, email clients, view presentations... in a way, shrink your entire office to a 5- or a 6-inch screen. You can scan a product - you don’t even need the barcode now, with smart assistants like Siri and Google Assistant - and your phone will tell you what it is.
But something that’s always been on the wish-list has been the ability to measure distances. It’s a complicated enough problem to begin with. Just as most humans can’t accurately tell distance with just a glance, neither could smartphones. The auto-focus function on cameras relied on using pin-points of the scene that had the sharpest clarity on the sensor. While it could detect continuum in clarity, it still couldn’t tell within 10-25% how far the focal point was from you. Not unless it was at a very small distance (50 cm or less)
The Asus Zenfone series, among others, came out with a stock app that used laser technology to measure the distance from the camera screen to a point in front of you. While this looks, on the face of it, to be a nifty implementation, the devil is in the details. In addition to limitations on how far the object could be (less than 3m, if memory serves me right), it was a point-to-point measurement. This means that you had to be extremely accurate about where you are standing when you activate the laser. It made the tool cool, but impractical.
Even in our conversations with real estate firms, an industry we have been working in for the past six years now, this was a pain repeatedly expressed. Our contacts wanted to know if we could help them with apps that could scan various points in an area, map their coordinates and the distances between each other and use these measurements to create a spatial map. This, they said, could speed up planning in the pre-construction phase, audits during construction and customization prior to the handover.
So far, we’ve always had to admit that any technology we employ to build such a solution would not be accurate enough for them to depend on.
So far. But not anymore.
Recently, Apple released the ARKit for the iOS. One of the functionalities introduced is measurement between two points in space, the exact problem that we had been trying to solve. Rather than reinvent the wheel, we’ve now switched to exploring more ways of using this capability.
The importance of this capability cannot be overstated, in my opinion. It has the potential to change prop-tech as we know it, not just in B2B but in B2C as well. Just as businesses can expect to benefit in operations and marketing, interior decorators can quickly re-create floor plans and space guidelines for small projects and individual homeowners will find it easier to create e-blueprints of their houses for renovation, sale or rent.
Our R&D into this feature has yielded solid results so far. We can measure distances between two points, mark all corners of a room (of any geometric shape) and compute areas. In a couple of months or so, once we’ve added a few more features you’ll find useful, we should be putting up an app on the Store for your personal use. However, please be warned that only certain Apple devices have the capability to run ARKit, and therefore make use of this feature.
Even as I write this, I discover that Google’s ARCore has caught up as well. Their own app, Measure, is out on the Play Store, in fact, and may very well have beaten Apple to the punch (Apple will be releasing their app along with iOS 12). As with Apple, only select Android devices will be able to run this tool. Hopefully, in the days to come, the hardware barriers will be reduced through either software or firmware fixes.
In any case, the possibilities lie before us, unexplored and inviting. It is not just proptech or real estate that stands to gain from this. Healthcare, manufacturing, logistics, automotive repairs … the list of industries where spatial measurement can be used keeps growing day by day.
And we find ourselves mulling over the usual questions as well: if this is possible, then what else can we add? What’s the next thing we can build on top of this to increase the range of real-world scenarios it can be used in?
You tell us!