Microsoft signs $22B deal to equip US Army soldiers with HoloLens-based AR headsets

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Microsoft and the U.S. Army have agreed on a $22 billion deal to supply 120,000 AR headsets for soldiers to wear during combat and training.
Image: Microsoft

The idea of outfitting soldiers with augmented reality (AR) hardware sounds like something from the pages of a science fiction novel. It is also exactly what’s happening in real life thanks to a multi-billion-dollar deal between Microsoft and the U.S. Army.

According to a report from CNBC, the Army is paying nearly $22 billion to equip its soldiers with AR headsets. Microsoft, in turn, will supply the military with 120,000 headsets based on its HoloLens 2 hardware.

The gear reportedly gives soldiers a tactical advantage on the battlefield by displaying helpful info and even providing assistance with aiming a weapon. Yes, it’s like aimbot in real life. All those hours playing “Call of Duty” might finally pay off.

In seriousness, the deal is noteworthy due to its size and the large-scale adoption of AR within the armed forces. The move could spark further growth for the tech in other sectors.

Tactical Adaptation

It should come as no surprise that American soldiers won’t be walking around with a device called “HoloLens” on their faces. The Army has instead chosen to name the headset the Integrated Visual Augmented System (IVAS).

It is, however, closely related to Microsoft’s HoloLens 2 mixed reality headset. The IVAS brings a host of capabilities in a compact, tactical package. For instance, it replaces a traditional pair of night vision goggles and allows soldiers to see during the day without removing them.

Meanwhile, the AR portion of the tech displays a compass, navigation, and thermal imaging. The headset also features radio capabilities for communication between team members. A press release from the Army noted that it can even be used to help soldiers aim their weapon in combat.

In the same statement, the Army said, “This award transitions IVAS to production and rapid fielding to deliver next-generation night vision and situational awareness capabilities to the Close Combat Force (CCF) at the speed of relevance.”

Interestingly, this isn’t the first deal between Microsoft and the Army for IVAS headsets. The two originally inked an agreement worth just under half a billion dollars back in 2018 to test the hardware’s effectiveness. Given the new deal, it appears that it passed with flying colors.

Forced Innovation

Some may remember that Microsoft employees protested when the first IVAS contract was signed in 2018. The story hasn’t changed this time around. Many employees disagree with the idea of supplying technology for warfare.

However, Microsoft’s stance is different. In a 2019 statement, CEO Satya Nadella said, “We made a principled decision that we’re not going to withhold technology from institutions that we have elected in democracies to protect the freedoms we enjoy.”

Given the new contract was just signed, it’s clear that the company hasn’t changed its position.

While it might be unsettling to think of soldiers equipped with high-tech AR headsets, it’s important to remember that tech like this often has its origins in warfare. Indeed, much of today’s technology is a result of innovations that came about during times of conflict. Moreover, the AR technology will play a role in keeping U.S. soldiers safe when they do enter combat.

It will be interesting to see how this deal plays out and how it affects the future of AR technology in the coming years.

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