Legislation and certification of XR applications: challenges to adoption and diffusion

Virtual and augmented reality may be changing the game, but such cutting-edge applications run ahead of many regulatory issues. How can the metaverse avoid uncertainties that could slow the adoption of XR and related enabling technologies?

Virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR) – collectively known as extended reality (XR) – can find game-changing use in teaching and training applications, with the technology enabling professionals to experience dangerous situations that no coaches would dare to expose trainees to in the real world.

Other benefits of XR for training applications include cost advantages, repeatability of exercises and remote use of the technology. Unfortunately, many certification bodies and institutions are still behind the curve on XR technology or hesitant to accept virtual environments as valid teaching and testing grounds.

At South by Southwest in March 2022 in Texas, US, a stage discussion on topics related to the metaverse, From buzz to reality: metaverse now and tomorrow, looked at regulatory challenges and opportunities.

Geoff Bund, head of software partnerships for headset manufacturer Varjo; Vesa Koivumaa, head of growth for industrial-equipment provider Wärtsilä; Miikka Rosendahl, founder and CEO for virtual-world creator Zoan; and Leslie Shannon, head of ecosystem and trend scouting for Nokia all provided perspectives of interface manufacturers, industrial users, metaverse designers, and infrastructure providers. (Understanding the metaverse – a discussion at SXSW has more information about the participants’ companies.)

Nokia’s Shannon highlighted the advantages that VR has for training. Training can be conducted remotely, and beginners can handle and understand difficult-to-use, even dangerous, equipment in challenging situations. 

VR applications also enable coaches to measure a wide range of metrics of the trainees’ performances, enabling very granular measurements, she said, adding: “You can tell if somebody knows what they were doing.”

Labster, for instance, is a developer of virtual labs to help professionals train the next generation of scientists. The market for these types of applications of VR has been growing rapidly for years.

Regulatory issues do exist, however. Once trainees finish the training, many cannot get certified, because VR is not yet considered a credible approach to learning real-world skills, Shannon said, adding: “We have to get the regulators to catch up.”

Varjo’s Bund confirmed such challenges, saying his company is working in a highly regulated environment for military, industrial and medical applications. He said that it took Varjo two and a half years to get its hardware on a certified helicopter training, commenting “we’re still catching up” in the regulatory world to adopt and trust the use of VR.

Wärtsilä has been in the cloud with its simulation system already since 2014, adopting virtual applications at an early stage. But Vesa Koivumaa cautions that institutions and certification bodies are adopting technologies very slowly. So, while Wärtsilä – or industrial players generally – can be an early adopter, both government and industry organisations need to accept these new technologies and approaches to realise the tremendous potential AR and VR offer.

The institutional environment and the lack of a commonly accepted regulatory framework has obvious implications for the adoption and diffusion path of metaverse-related applications, adding to the many legal minefields

Real-world applications of XR

Not surprisingly, the military has been looking at the use of AR and VR for quite some time and is driving adoption. In March 2021, the US Army awarded Microsoft with a $21bn contract for AR headsets, systems and training to support soldiers with battlefield maps and easy access to intelligence by overlaying information onto the field of vision.

More recently, in May 2022, a pair of fighter pilots used their AR headsets to perform a refueling-maneuver exercise. The US Air Force also leverages the technology so that pilots can practice dogfights against virtual enemies.

Meanwhile, the US Navy has changed its curriculum for flight training for the first time in half a century in 2021. Pilot training will now make use of VR and AR. The goal is not only to provide better practice, but to shorten the time required to train new pilots.

Certification progress for civil aviation is also moving ahead. In April 2022, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) approved the use of a VR-based training device for flight simulation. VRM Switzerland developed a device that will help rotorcraft pilots to practice risky manoeuvres in the safety of a virtual environment.

In May 2022, the US Navy signed a contract for 14 mixed-reality systems from Aechelon Technology. The systems, which integrate Varjo headsets, will find use in the training programme for the tilt-rotor helicopters.

Challenges ahead

Bund mentions other considerations that will affect adoption. This year, the OpenXR standard is finally experiencing widespread acceptance, but Bund cautions that there many challenges and that Varjo’s partners still require substantial assistance when creating content.

He discussed blockchain technologies, standards and open source as relevant concepts for the development of the metaverse, adding: “There’s currently a window where we could guide XR into a very positive direction.”

Zoan’s Miikka Rosendahl also believes that blockchain applications and ownership of virtual objects matter, highlighting past efforts by Nokia in Second Life that enabled ownership of objects.

Ownership matters because individuals in the metaverse will use virtual land and objects to create services and applications. Without ownership many applications will be difficult to establish – and blockchain technology enables users to establish and transfer ownership.

Zoan was the first company to launch an NFT (non-fungible token)/initial coin offering (ICO) from Finland, and because of the regulatory environment there, the offer had to take many legal issues into considerations that other companies that launched from less regulated regions could ignore.

The issue of standards and compatibility are crucial adoption considerations that will require closer collaboration among industry players. For financial applications, such as cryptocurrencies and ownership considerations, legislative bodies will have to set frameworks. The process will take time and fast resolution of the many issues should not be expected.

But progress is made here too. In the US, it was not even clear which institution will have to establish related regulations until recently. Now, it appears that the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) will be in charge rather than – as many industry players had expected – the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). The smaller size of the CFTC has caused worry that the task could overwhelm officials, resulting in delays of legislative efforts.

For the time being, many regulatory issues and uncertainties will slow the adoption of XR and metaverse-related and -enabling technologies. But in the long run, legal certainty will play an important role in driving these technologies across industries and deep into a wide range of applications.

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