Back in 2018, Microsoft was awarded a $480 million contract by the U.S. Army in which the company promised to provide augmented reality systems – such as HoloLens – for training and combat missions. Although the deal was protested by some Microsoft employees who claimed that the Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) technology could result in more deaths, CEO Satya Nadella published a stern statement saying that the firm will not "withhold technology from institutions that we have elected in democracies to protect the freedoms we enjoy."
In fact, Microsoft signed yet another ten-year contract worth $21.9 billion with the U.S. military a couple of months ago, and today it has announced that the latter will start equipping soldiers with headsets featuring HoloLens technology in September.
Image provided to Microsoft by the U.S. Army
Microsoft says that it has collected 80,000 hours of feedback from soldiers actually using HoloLens technology in the past two years to enhance the headset's technology for use in actual training and combat missions on the road to mass deployment to the military. Soldiers visited Microsoft's design labs to test new prototypes and provide feedback, according to which the prototype was improved in an iterative manner. Microsoft Teams was used as the primary online communication platform and Power BI was used to visualize and track the status of the entire project.
An advisor who has been working on the project since the start, U.S. Army Master Sgt. Marc Krugh, had the following to say:
Soldiers will be able to rehearse and train in more realistic scenarios using augmented reality to prepare themselves for what they are walking into. Inevitably, IVAS is going to save lives. That’s our main focus – bringing our men and women in arms back home.
[…] The whole (development) process was really iterative. Using the prototyping process, we were able to find out what works and what doesn’t work. Had we not received feedback from soldiers, we might have done the wrong thing and developed in the wrong direction.
Some current and potential future applications of IVAS in the U.S. Army include the utilization of 3D maps in training missions, the ability to see through smoke and around corners, make use of enhanced night vision, and "shift their view to the vantage point of combatants who might see them approaching or see what a particular environment looks like from different directions or in daylight, moonlight or rain."
As a part of the current contract, Microsoft will produce 120,000 headsets with HoloLens technology at first, initially equipping on-foot soldiers followed by the utilization of IVAS in military vehicles. The project is being developed under the "Other Transaction Authority" agreement, which means that the U.S. Army can be more active and flexible in the prototyping and feedback process as compared to a regular project of this type and scale.