In early March, our team was busy preparing for the start of conference season. It was all systems go, but the threat of coronavirus was starting to hit home. One thing was suddenly top of mind for us: can you put the same headset on 100s of people without putting them at risk?
The same risks will apply to VR enterprise training. VR headset hygiene is no longer just the worry of germaphobes.
Cleaning the headsets and controllers after each use is always good practice. The current million dollar question is, can you disinfect a VR headset to remove viruses? According to Dr. John Swartzberg, an expert on infectious diseases at the University of California, “[The novel coronavirus] is easily destroyed by most disinfectants.” The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a list of products that meet EPA’s criteria for use against the novel coronavirus. Several common antibacterial wipes are on the EPA’s list.
Facial Interface Foam
The facial interface foam is the soft piece of foam that contacts the user’s face. The foam can absorb sweat and other materials. It’s unlikely that wipes can penetrate and disinfect the facial foam. Luckily, several companies have stepped in to handle this challenge.
VR Ninja Masks
While they sound cooler than they actually are – these little masks act as a barrier between the user and the device. The disposable paper masks are low cost and give the user a level of comfort that a physical barrier can bring. The masks do tend to slide around on the user’s face and they don’t absorb sweat very well. New, more absorbent versions of these masks that stick directly to the headset are now coming out.
Interface Foam Covers
A great solution comes in the form of covers or replacement kits for the foam interface. A quick google search brings up several options.
- Silicone covers slip over the existing foam.
- Polyurethane leather kits that replace the entire foam interface.
These materials can be cleaned with disinfectants or antibacterial wipes. They are more cost effective than disposable masks and more environmentally friendly. Depending on the cover material they can also be wiped clean with a wider variety of disinfectants.
Disinfection with UV light is a promising option. One company that seems to be coming out on top here is Cleanbox. The company notes a 99.999% kill rate on contagions with the whole process taking less than a minute. The Cleanbox comes with a water repellant spray which is applied to the foam interface and any fabric pieces of each VR headset.
Google Cardboard and Mobile Phones
The use of employee’s own mobile phones is an option. The advantage ,of course, is that employees are not sharing gear. The costs of cardboard headsets make the numbers workable. Experiences could be viewed using cardboard or an optimized mobile experience (no headset required). The experience is more basic – the graphics aren’t as great and you can’t pick up and interact with objects but you will still enjoy some of the benefits of using VR for training (it can be more engaging and fun than tick the box powerpoint presentations)! What’s more, managers can still easily measure their staff’s performance and identify key areas for improvement. Your VR training provider will need to offer solutions that are compatible with mobile phone use.
With some thought and planning, VR is still a safe training option
Many of the ideas presented in this article probably should have been top of mind for all of us when VR became more mainstream. The introduction of COVID-19 has certainly heightened our awareness around proper hygiene practices for shared equipment at the workplace. With a solid and consistent plan in place, VR is a viable option for safe and effective workplace training.
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