The Clever Pen on a Mission to Finally Kill the Tape Measure

Mladen Barbaric is sick of tape measures. They’re unruly and awkward. Using them on curved surfaces is like trying to gift wrap a golf club. “Tape measures haven’t changed since 1869,” he says. As founder of design studio Pearl and the industrial designer behind the fitness-tracking Misfit Shine, the seizure-detecting Empatica Embrace, and a host of other products, Barbaric would know. Despite working in a mostly digital environment, most of the tools he uses while designing-rulers, calipers, and, yes, tape measures-are still analog.

“Tools today outside of the computer and phone are not really well thought out,” he says. “They’re just archaic.” But Barbaric has a solution to old-school measuring tools. He’s calling it the InstruMMent 01. The multi-purpose gadget ( now raising funds on Indiegogo) looks like a pen and works like a handheld surveyor’s wheel. At one end is your choice of a pen, pencil, or stylus; at the other is a black rubberized wheel designed to roll over flat and curved surfaces. As the wheel turns, sensors inside the gadget record the distance it travels in 0.1 mm increments. A laser at the tip of the roller help you gauge, visually, where your measurement begins and ends.

The choice to make the object roll wasn’t initially obvious. “It took us a little while to figure out what the optimal form factor was,” Barbaric says. He knew the object had to be small and be able to measure curved surfaces as well as flat ones. For Barbaric, his ideal measuring tool could be held in one hand, fit in a laptop bag, and pull double duty (hence the pen). It ended up that the object’s rolling mechanism solved for all of these considerations, while also making it more adaptable and accurate than a standard tape measure.

It also does more work than a tape measure. For starters, you can capture the dimensions of basically any object, straight or curved, and send it wirelessly to your phone, where it appears as a card with a photo and description. From the accompanying app, you can convert imperial units to metric (or vice versa), and translate the scaled quantities on a map or drawing to real-world units-a handy feature for anyone who works from blueprints. And you can program the tool’s laser to blink at predetermined increments, to help space measurements equally. (Barbaric hints that the device is capable of more, and could acquire more feature in the future, but was tight-lipped about what those features might be.)

Barbaric designed the 01 to make designers’ lives easier, and it does. The tool packs a lot of functionality into a small, attractive package that its intended audience will certainly find useful. But Barbaric, perhaps unsurprisingly, is finding that the device has applications outside the studio. “I’ve seen guys have bicep competitions,” he says. “And the first thing my wife did was measure our kid.”

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