The phrase “social distancing” or “physical distancing” has been quite common these days as the world continues to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus. That may be easy to do, even if people seem to find it hard to comply with, but that presumes you’re even aware of how near people are. Those with sight impairment might not be so aware of such distances but an upcoming accessibility feature to the iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max will use their fancy new LIDAR sensor detect people nearby and even tell the user how close or far they are from you so you could avoid them or tell them to keep their distance.
You might wonder what the big deal is considering LIDAR can already be used to measure distances between the iPhone and other objects. LIDAR, however, doesn’t discriminate between objects and people, which makes it virtually impossible to differentiate, say, a post from a person.
That’s where ARKit’s People Occlusion lends a hand, the same technology used to if there people within a given field of view. Together, these two can determine whether a person is within a given distance threshold and notify the user as appropriate.
This accessibility feature is, of course, designed for those with eye problems or those who are completely blind, giving them a sense, via audio readout or haptics, if there are people within a certain distance so that they can take appropriate measures if needed. It can, however, also be used as a social distancing tool when set with a custom threshold to inform them if people within the vicinity aren’t practicing proper safety measures.
People Detection is already available on iOS 14.2 beta and will be rolling out to the general public hopefully next week. Considering it needs LIDAR to function, it will only be available on the “Pro” iPhone models, namely the iPhone 12 Pro and the still coming iPhone 12 Pro Max.