Any sci-fi movie would tell you that the future of the world, and warfare, is AR/VR. The technology has been adopted in a few video games as well as some movies, but now, it’s got a killer new listing, literally speaking, since the US Army plans to use it as a training tool for soldiers. Yes, you read that right. Microsoft Corp. has just signed a contract with the US military (which is worth almost $22 billion) to supply it with 120,000 AR headsets. The news was announced by a Microsoft on Wednesday.
The headsets, which will be provided to the Army gradually over a period of 10 years, will be based on the software giant’s HoloLens 2 technology, and will be designed using the Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS). Additionally, it will be supported by the cloud computing platform Azure. It will also be adequately tweaked and amped to suit the needs for battle training for soldiers engaged in Closed Combat Force, to allow them to ‘fight, rehearse, and train using a single platform’.
As revealed in a blog post by Alex Kipman, Microsoft Technical Fellow and head of the team behind the HoloLens, the equipment is being designed to provide for an ‘enhanced situational awareness, enabling information sharing and decision-making in a variety of scenarios.’
Moreover, according to a statement released by the Department of Defense, the IVAS design will allow for ‘next generation night vision and situational awareness capabilities’.
While the original design of the headsets comes with a display screen up front which allows the flow of information onto the user’s field of vision, the IVAS, which is being created for the soldiers of the Pentagon will have specialized sensors to provide enhanced night vision as well as thermal vision, to aid in training and on the battlefield. The design will also be equipped with tools to support the user in engaging the target and making tactical decisions. It’s like you are the Iron Man and IVAS is your personal JARVIS.
Microsoft had already been working on creating the prototypes of these IVAS-based devices since 2018, for which the military had awarded it a contract of $480 Million. This new agreement marks the beginning of the move towards the production stage, and comes after last year’s $10 Billion contract that enlisted the company for supplying cloud devices based on the tech biggie’s JEDI technology, to the Defense Department (which is currently the subject of a lawsuit by competitor Amazon who claims that the deal was made after improper influence from former President Donald Trump).
Though this partnership is being deemed to be a new avenue in military training, there are many who remain skeptical, as Microsoft still finds itself in the midst of heavy criticism over carrying out work on the HoloLens project to support the Army. In fact, back in 2018, at least 94 employees of the company (who refuse to be ‘war profiteers’), filed a petition, demanding that the deal to develop the IVAS platform be cancelled, and that Microsoft stop all development projects for ‘any and all weapons technologies.’ Nevertheless, CEO Satya Nadella has come to the defense of the firm, saying that they will not “withhold technology from institutions that we have elected in democracies to protect the freedoms we enjoy.”
This contract comes as one of largest commercialization projects for Augmented Reality, which has so far seen only remote growth as a fully commercial tool. Moreover, it also solidifies the firm’s development process for HoloLens, as the government funding can help tackle baseline issues which might complicate future plans.