Back when I tested Google’s first augmented reality product, Project Tango, one of my favorite use cases was the Google Measure app. This would turn Tango’s bevy of extra sensors into a virtual tape measure, allowing you to roughly pick any two points in the world and get the distance between them. When Project Tango died, I figured the Measure app was done for too, but Google has resurrected the app for ARCore, its new, post-Tango augmented reality framework that works on many high-end Android phones.
Tango used a time-of-flight camera, an IR projector, and a fish-eye motion camera to measure things, but now with an ARCore-compatible Android device, you can run the exact same app with normal smartphone hardware. Just point the phone at something, drag out either the “length” or “height” measurement tools onto the camera feed, and adjust the end points to measure something. When you first open the app, you have to move the phone around so it can scan the surrounding area. This isn’t a fast process and can be a bit of a pain when you just want to measure something.
Just like on Tango, there’s a significant margin of error in the measurements, but the new app at least lists the accuracy range right below the measurement. Shorter measurements are usually within half an inch, while longer measurements can be off by several inches.
If you have a real tape measure handy, it doesn’t make a ton of sense for small measurements, but for larger objects, these AR measuring apps can be genuinely useful. Measuring something like a telephone pole would be downright impossible with a tape measure, but Google Measure can get you the height within a few inches. Of course, the best measuring tape is the one you have with you, and if you don’t have a physical tool handy, your Android phone can now act as a decent stand-in.
According to some reviews, the app works better on some phones than others. Samsung apparently doesn’t implement ARCore very well on the Galaxy S9 (shocker!), but it works great on the Pixel phones.
While Google Measure has been hanging around at Google HQ since 2016, we’ve got to wonder if the company recently dusted it off in response to Apple’s ARKit-powered measuring app, which Apple announced is coming later this year in iOS 12.