Mixed reality is quickly expanding into the consumer market, expected to reach an estimated $10.4 billion of revenue in 2017. While the technology is cool, there are some inherent dangers visiting virtual and augmented worlds.
It’s not safe on several levels.
Now I’m not saying you should be afraid of these technologies as though they’re some sort of wild animal trying to attack. What I am saying is there are steps that need to be taken to stay safe when you’re using VR and AR technologies, and it’s not as high-tech and complicated as you may think.
Adverse Effects on Physical Health
While there’s no denying the cool effect of having the real world melt into a digital reality, it does come with a few caveats. The most obvious of those is the screen strapped to your face, which can’t possibly be good for your eyes.
Even before VR headsets hit the market in 2016, journalists and developers who got hands on with early demos of the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive headsets wrote about eye problems they developed with normal VR usage.
Essentially, no matter how crisp the resolution, your eye knows it’s only a screen and can see the grid. Your eyes grow accustomed to this unnatural state and when you remove the headset, they still visualize the grid being there. If you close your eyes after a lengthy VR session, you’ll see what I mean for yourself.
Headset makers are focused on the possible negative health impacts of their products, and tons of resources are already being poured into research and development to counter this. Lighter headsets with a larger field of view, faster refresh rates, etc. will alleviate the short-term annoyances like eye strain, but we don’t really know the long-term effects.
VR tricks your eyes into seeing depth, but it’s not really there. They’re inevitably focused on a screen two inches in front of them at the most. Although full immersion is a great trick for your brain, your eyes are being dried out and exposed to a lot of artificial light.
On top of this, Time magazine spoke with several optometry and eye specialists and found focusing on a computer screen or even a book for too long can ruin your vision. This is especially a problem for younger kids with developing eyesight, which led VR headset makers like Sony to include warnings about people under the age of 14 using PSVR.
Of course, these are just the problems with your eyesight. We haven’t even begun talking about how mixed reality affects the rest of your body’s health.
Risk of Accident and Fatality
The summer of 2016 was dominated by Pokemon Go and a large portion of the world ventured out into the world for their first taste of blending digital with real life. Although really Pokemon Go was just that – a small taste of AR.
Even the View-Master reels by Mattel have more immersive AR because you’re putting your phone over your face, but that’s not actually safe to do while wandering outdoors. Instead, technologies like Google Glass and Intel/Oakley’s augmented reality HMDs allow your eyes to see the real world and merely augment that with an integrated laser display.
Still, Pokemon Go immersed people enough that players were robbed, got into car accidents, and even wandered into police stations, creating general chaos in the real world. What’s just an innocent game eventually becomes a real-life hazard under the right sets of circumstances.
This is true of mobile phones and all wearables – we generally need to be more aware and responsive of the people around us. It’s easy enough to do this unless you have a helmet strapped to your head feeding you audio and visual content.
Anyone who’s ever strapped on a VR headset understands how little awareness you have of the world around me. In my house we have a funny initiation we put people through for a shark attack from VR Worlds. As the virtual shark circles you and you follow it with your head, our real-life dogs follow your lead and begin circling you too.
Animals don’t really understand what we’re doing all day when ignoring them for our bright, shiny screens all day, and they’ll still interact with us while we’re lose in virtual worlds. Some people will too.
The immersion of virtual and augmented reality (hell – digital life in general) is so real that people can forget about the world around them, and it’s a real problem we need to face.
Enemies are always at our gates, not just in the real world, but in the digital one too.
Hackers and Online Attacks
Mixed reality is bunched into the overall Internet of Things. These HMDs are emerging technologies and while security concerns have been addressed, we don’t really know what’s going to happen when they’re released into the wild.
New developers are disrupting every aspect of how virtual and augmented reality evolve. I spent last month exploring Google’s Project Tango mobile AR platform, and while it’s impressive, it still reeks of launch, as does the entire library of content available on PSVR, Steam VR, and Oculus VR marketplaces.
Even seasoned developers are trying new things in AR and VR and that leaves a lot of possible glitches and flaws that can be exploited. In the hacker world, zero-day exploits are like gold, as they’re not yet patched and basically act as a key to get in anywhere you want.
It’s vital to take steps to secure your technology, whether it’s used for home or business, to keep everything safe. Installing a VPN on all devices, regularly changing WiFi security and encryption settings, and being aware of what’s installed is the easiest way to stay secure while using any technology.
With virtual reality, it’s especially important because you’re unaware of what’s going on around you, especially when wearing surround sound headphones. Someone could break in and take over your home, and you’d never know.
So long as you always keep safety in mind, it’s ok to get immersed in the wonders of virtual and augmented reality from time to time. I own a few headsets and love them, but I’m safe with how I use them. Be safe with yours.