Hygiene for Shared Virtual Reality Headsets
Updated: Nov 13, 2020
In the post covid-19 “new normal” world it seems likely that hygiene issues concerning shared VR Headsets will require considerable efforts in order to convince consumers that the virtual experience is going to be worth the risk. Historically there has been some (usually fairly minor minor) concerns over donning previously used virtual reality Head Mounted Displays when offering consumers the opportunity to engage with a VR experience. The typical concerns were usually more over smudged make-up and messed-up hair than concerns regarding lethal pathogens.
Are we therefore limited to creating and sharing VR content to consumers who already have their own virtual reality HMD, or can we provide sufficient anti-bacterial cleansing of shared headsets in order to engage a wider audience? And more importantly will this be the straw that breaks the camel’s back as regards wider VR engagement with the general public?
What options do we have for hygiene of shared VR glasses?
Both the Virtual Reality Glasses and handheld peripherals when used come into contact with the skin and therefore have the potential to transfer germs and harmful bacteria. For obvious reasons anyone managing the use of the HMDs and peripherals should wear appropriate personal protective equipment such as gloves, facemask and if possible a visor. This is a bit trickier for your passer by to be quite so prepared.
VR Headset & Peripherals Wipe Down
When engaging users to wear shared VR headsets basic hygiene is a must – the headset and peripherals should have absorbent face-shields replaced with more hygienic options, for example this version for the Oculus Go, and then be cleaned between uses using antibacterial or antivral wipes.
It is necessary to check that these are alcohol-free as they may do damage to the headset’s external covering whether that be the material covering of the eye surrounds or the plastic casing. Equally care needs to be taken with users who may be sensitive to materials used in the wipes as this could potentially cause allergic reaction and/or some skin irritation.
Disposable VR Hygiene Covers
Beyond the basic hygiene outlined above it would be prudent to invest in disposable VR hygiene covers which sit between the users face and the headset. These masks are relatively inexpensive and at the very least reduce the potential amount of sweat or skin contamination that would be expected, although as they tend to be made from permeable materials they would not necessarily offer total antiviral protection.
Swappable Face covers
An alternative option to the disposable covers are the more hygienic wipeable vinyl covers such as this Hygiene Cover for Oculus Quest. These replacement covers fit snugly over the headset where it touches the face and can be quickly swapped out for a clean one. These can then be thoroughly disinfected between uses by simply washing in warm soapy water.
Ultravoilet VR Headset Cleansing
One unique solution targeted at high turnover headset use, such as in public entertainment or engagement use, is Cleanbox as system which initially coats a headset and then can disinfect in a 1-2 minute cycle using UVC light. This claims to offer better coverage of disinfection than traditional wipes.
This is a challenging time for anyone who has invested in VR technology, especially where this may involve shared headset used with the general public, however with safeguards in place and a comprehensive cleaning plan for any HMDs in use, there shouldn't be any reason why consumers could not safely re-engage with virtual reality experiences in a safe and healthy manner.
Andrew Murchie is a creative technology consultant based in Edinburgh, Scotland specialising in stereoscopic 3d virtual reality films. He has produced Virtual Reality experiences for clients including Kimberly-Clark, Kraft-Heinz, Loch Lomond Distillers, Highland Spring and Tennent Caledonian Breweries.