A simple DIY laser project to encourage social distancing


A myriad of 3D companies and designers have found creative solutions and ways to help with the global COVID-19 pandemic, but one intrepid inventor has taken a different path – using lasers to help encourage social distancing.

The unique laser-based solution to adhere to social distancing guidelines is the brainstorm of Harm van Beek, who is the Research and Design Director for The Incredible Machine, a design agency specializing in product and technology concepts for an equitable society. The tool, which is called “The Social Distance Thing” uses common parts made from things that people might already on hand.

The diameter of the circle is adjusted via the mirror angle.

Its design is amazingly simple – and familiar to anyone who’s ever wondered how Lidar works. A laser shines at a rotating mirror (in this case, powered by a spinning computer fan), projecting a perfect circle around the wearer on the ground. Adjust the mirror’s angle, and you can project a bright visible perimeter to remind people to socially distance during this pandemic.

van Beek says his priority was on creating something simple. Along with the demonstration video, van Beek shared detailed instructions so that others could build the device themselves. The materials include a laser pointer, a small mirror, desktop computer fan, electrical wire, battery pack, tape, some Legos and a PVC pipe.

The prototype device, made out of relatively common materials.

“I was thinking about basic materials that people might have laying around as I did. Hence a simple cooling fan, etc.”

Remind anyone of lidar?

In the instructions, he mentions that the goal was to create something for personal protection, but also as education to others.

“When social distancing was first introduced it was clear that not every person practiced it properly or even at all. That is a situation that potentially can be endangering to people who are more at risk from the corona virus. To help people visualize and become aware of the importance of social distancing we built the Social Distance Thing.”

Since some of us have some extra time on our hands during this time, this might be a fun and educational project to take on. Please let us know if you make one – we’d love to hear how it goes.


About Author

Carla Lauter

Carla Lauter is the editor of SPAR3D.com and the SPAR 3D Newsletter. Before joining SPAR 3D, Carla spent 10 years on NASA and National Science Foundation funded projects focusing on Earth science and communication. She has worked on web-based outreach and online interactives for NASA Earth Science, including products for satellite missions measuring sea level, salinity and hyperspectral ocean color.


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