As VR market grows in India, no safety standards in place for headsets

As the virtual reality market seems set to grow in a major way in India, safety standards usually applicable to other electronics are not yet in place

Updated - July 18, 2023 03:54 pm IST

Published - July 18, 2023 04:37 am IST - NEW DELHI

As VR market grows in India, no safety standards in place for headsets

As VR market grows in India, no safety standards in place for headsets | Photo Credit: AP

Virtual reality (VR) headsets have no safety requirements in India, even as companies like Apple and Meta gear up to sell more and more such headsets in India. According to official correspondence reviewed by The Hindu under the Right to Information Act, the government has not yet devised standards to protect users who put on VR headsets, which occupy a user’s entire field of vision with a display.

VR headsets are used predominantly in gaming, but firms like Meta and Apple see promise in creating a ‘metaverse,’ an alternate space online where people can interact with avatars; and in general computing.

According to a report by the India Brand Equity Foundation, an initiative by the Ministry of Commerce & Industry, the VR and so-called augmented reality (AR) industries together may increase their market value to $14.07 billion by 2027. Augmented reality is used to superimpose virtual elements in real time in the real world, such as ‘filters’ on apps like Instagram.

Many personal electronics, like mobile phones, laptops, televisions and gaming consoles are required to undergo testing and compliance for electrical safety, a process at the end of which the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) issues a registration authorising the sale of these products in India. However, no such requirement exists for VR headsets.

In a meeting among customs officials in August 2022, Principal Commissioner of Customs S.A. Usmani brought up this issue, highlighting the discrepancy — and lack of clarity — in safety requirements for VR headsets. The Indian Standard 616:2010 (recently superseded by a 2017 standard) provides safety norms for gaming consoles, but VR headsets were being imported under several product classifications, Mr. Usmani said, according to minutes of the meeting published by Mumbai Customs.

“Importers are not accepting the BIS requirement for VR headset-based video consoles stating that they are not covered under the compulsory BIS requirement,” a summary of Mr. Usmani’s remarks said. He was tasked with obtaining clarity from the BIS.

The Hindu accessed this subsequent correspondence, where the government said that it was still deliberating on the issue, and that a Technical Advisory Committee would look into the matter and provide recommendations.

Beyond electrical safety, VR headsets pose other challenges — they are designed to block visibility to the outside world, and use motion tracking to immerse users in a virtual environment. In a 2020 research paper published by the United Kingdom’s Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy, the main problem was one of “cybersickness,” a form of motion sickness not unlike seasickness.

While headset manufacturers like Sony sometimes include health warnings and discourage young children from using these headsets at all, there appears to be no state-led initiative to guide these. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission — whose jointly approved standards provide a basis for Indian standards and are sometimes even listed alongside these — offer a standard for “Guidance on safe immersion, set up and usage” of AR and VR systems.

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