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Augmented-reality measuring tape unfurls on your iPhone

No tape measure, no problem. An augmented-reality app built for iOS turns your smartphone into a virtual measuring device.

You're staring at your windows. You need to measure for curtains, but you have no idea where you hid your measuring tape. Soon, you'll be able to whip out your iPhone and sort it all out using AR Measure, an augmented-reality app that rolls out an animated tape measure on your screen. 

The app comes from developer Laan Labs, which plans to release it to the public when iOS 11 launches this fall. 

One of the big questions surrounding an app like this is just how accurately it can measure. Jason Laan of Laan Labs says the accuracy can vary, but it can get very close. "We see it as a way to get quick estimates -- not a way to build a house," he says. 

Laan Labs posted a video demonstration of the app on Sunday. It's a lot of fun to see a virtual ruler roll out next to a real one. The demo also shows how you can draw a line from one point to another and get a measurement. 

Laan credits the developers who created ARKit, Apple's platform for building augmented-reality software for iOS.

"ARKit uses a combination of visual information coming in from the camera, along with sensor readings from the accelerometer, gyroscope, and compass to estimate how the device is positioned," Laan says. "Tracking is made a lot more accurate when the phone can see lots of 'stuff' from the camera. If you are trying to measure a large white wall, ARKit will have a tougher time estimating position."

AR Measure is an interesting example of how augmented-reality technology can work its way into our everyday lives. It's not just about catching Pokemon. It can also be about figuring out if that table will fit in your kitchen nook.

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