Devices that create virtual or augmented realities may seem like the stuff of science fiction. But spatial ware, which includes augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and mixed reality (MR) technologies and equipment, is already a part of the daily lives of many.
Our use of AR/VR/MR technologies includes not just video games and other consumer-oriented entertainment but also covers a wide range of commercial and industrial applications. For example, companies are using AR and VR systems and equipment to enhance training experience in fields as diverse as education, healthcare and public safety, allowing the use of simulated environments and conditions to help employees and students develop essential skills.
The potential opportunities for the use of AR/VR/MR technologies are seemingly endless, with sales of AR and VR systems and equipment expected to grow exponentially in the coming years. A 2019 study by International Data Corporation (IDO) projects that global shipments of AR and VR headsets will increase at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 67% between now and 2023. And advanced communications technologies like 5G and Wi-Fi 6 will only serve to accelerate the acceptance and use of AR/VR/MR systems and equipment.
But, while many use an AR or VR headset for one or two hours without adverse effect, industry safety experts are increasingly concerned about prolonged use of an AR or VR headset. For example, a training environment could introduce users to new safety risks not typically associated with electronic devices. Such risks range from headaches or neck strain due to the weight of an AR or VR headset to a user's prolonged exposure to potentially harmful optical radiation sources.
Until recently, attention given to the potential safety issues associated with the prolonged use of AR/VR/MR headsets and equipment has not been standardized. But that's about the change, noted Ibrahim Jilani, UL's director, Consumer Technology.
"Comprehensively assessing the safety of spatial ware is a complex challenge, requiring a great variety of expertise," said Jilani, who spoke at the 2019 VR/AR Global Summit in Vancouver, Canada, about the need for standardized safety requirements for AR/VR/MR systems and equipment. "We spent the year of 2019 speaking with a broad range of stakeholders, including regulators and spatial ware developers and manufacturers, to better understand the unique risks associated with AR/VR/MR devices."
According to Jilani, those discussions made clear the extent of the challenge, as well as the need for a new standard that would cover particular safety risks associated with spatial ware. [editor's note: Underwriters Laboratories, the nonprofit entity within UL, recently established a Standards Technical Panel (STP) to help develop a new UL Standard, UL 8400. Made up of a diverse group of stakeholders, the STP will explore the safety issues associated with the use of AR/VR/MR systems and equipment.]
"Our research so far has made clear the need to supplement the requirements of existing standards to account for the risks specific to AR and VR systems and equipment," he said.
Jilani believes that once a new standard is developed, it will help establish uniform requirements regarding the safety of all types of spatial ware. "Having a clear set of requirements for AR and VR device safety will not only promote the overall safety of the technology, it will also help support the continued growth of the VR/AR/MR industry," Jilani concluded.
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