How safe are AR technologies?

Augmented Reality (AR) has made a huge impact on various sectors, ranging from gaming and entertainment to healthcare and industrial applications. As AR technologies evolve, concerns regarding their safety are becoming more prominent. This article analyzes the safety aspects of AR technologies through various lenses — user health, data security, and public safety.

User health

One of the foremost concerns regarding AR technology is its impact on user health. Extended usage of AR glasses or headsets can lead to eye strain, fatigue, and in severe cases, altered perception of the real world. For instance, Microsoft’s HoloLens, a pioneering AR headset, initially faced criticism for causing discomfort during extended use. Manufacturers have since been focusing on reducing weight and improving ergonomics. Moreover, as AR applications can be very immersive, there's a risk of physical accidents due to users not being fully aware of their surroundings. Niantic’s Pokemon Go, an AR game, reported several accidents where users, engrossed in the game, inadvertently put themselves in danger. To counter this, developers are now integrating real-world awareness features in applications to alert users of potential hazards.

Data security

As AR technologies often require access to sensitive data, such as user location and preferences, ensuring data security is imperative. Cyber-attacks aimed at AR devices can compromise personal information and in cases of industrial applications, trade secrets. For instance, the AR application Wikitude, which provides information about nearby locations, requires access to the user's location data. A breach could reveal sensitive information about a user’s movements. To mitigate such risks, companies are employing end-to-end encryption and robust authentication methods. Also, adherence to data protection laws such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is essential.

Public safety

AR technologies have the potential to impact public safety. For instance, the use of AR in automobiles for navigation and information display should not divert the driver’s attention and contribute to accidents. Furthermore, as AR becomes prevalent in public spaces, such as shopping malls or airports, ensuring that AR content does not create panic or confusion is vital. In the automotive industry, companies like Hyundai are integrating AR in their Head-Up Displays (HUDs) to ensure that the information is non-intrusive and genuinely aids the driver without causing distractions.

Regulatory scrutiny

Regulatory bodies worldwide are keeping a close watch on AR technologies. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), for example, is actively involved in regulating AR devices used in healthcare. AR applications in surgeries and diagnostics should comply with safety and efficacy standards. Additionally, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) may also step in to ensure that AR advertising does not mislead or harm consumers.

Social implications

It's also crucial to consider the social implications of AR. For instance, Google Glass faced backlash due to privacy concerns, as people around the wearer were unaware if they were being recorded. AR technologies must respect social norms and privacy expectations. Users should be informed and in control of the data that AR applications access and share.

The industrial aspect

In industries, AR is used for training, maintenance, and complex assembly tasks. While it enhances productivity, it is vital to ensure that AR does not compromise worker safety. Lockheed Martin, an American global aerospace, defense, and security company, employs AR for assembly and manufacturing processes. They have integrated safety protocols that make sure that AR usage complies with workplace safety norms.

Future directions

To ensure that AR technologies remain safe as they continue to evolve, a multi-pronged approach is needed. This includes continuous evaluation and improvements in hardware design, stringent data security measures, adherence to regulatory norms, and public awareness campaigns. The development of international safety standards for AR technologies could also be instrumental in ensuring a globally accepted safety benchmark.

Human factors

One aspect that needs further investigation is how AR affects human psychology and behavior. In educational environments, for example, AR can be a powerful tool. However, over-reliance might impede critical thinking and problem-solving skills if not implemented thoughtfully. It's essential that educationalists and psychologists work together with technology developers to create AR content that enhances learning while nurturing essential life skills.

Economic concerns

The economic implications of AR should not be ignored. As industries adopt AR for various applications, the job market dynamics are likely to change. On one hand, AR can enhance productivity and create new avenues for employment, but on the other hand, it can also render certain jobs obsolete. Governments and policymakers need to be proactive in identifying such trends and ensuring that the workforce is prepared to adapt to these changes.

Privacy paradox

The privacy concerns associated with AR are particularly challenging. As AR devices become more integrated into our daily lives, the line between what is private and what is not begins to blur. For example, future AR glasses might be capable of facial recognition and instant background checks. While this could be useful in certain scenarios, it raises significant ethical and privacy concerns. In this context, robust and adaptable privacy laws are crucial. Users should have the autonomy to control the data they share and understand the implications.

Ethical considerations

Beyond privacy, there are broader ethical questions to consider. As AR can manipulate the perception of reality, there is potential for misuse. The deepfake technology, for instance, can be combined with AR to create hyper-realistic forgeries that can deceive individuals. This could have serious implications in terms of misinformation, fraud, and personal safety. Ethical guidelines and regulations that specifically address such concerns are required.

Digital divide

As AR technologies advance, there is also a risk of widening the digital divide. Those who have access to these technologies may have significant advantages in terms of education, employment, and social opportunities compared to those who don’t. Ensuring that AR technologies are accessible and affordable is an important societal challenge that needs addressing.


AR technologies are a double-edged sword. On one side, they hold immense potential in enhancing our capabilities and experiences; on the other, they bring along a host of concerns pertaining to health, data security, public safety, ethics, and social equity. As technology continues to evolve, a multidisciplinary approach involving technologists, psychologists, lawmakers, ethicists, and the public is essential in ensuring that the development of AR is guided by principles that prioritize human safety and well-being. The road ahead should be paved with innovation, but caution should be the guiding light.