The US Army has seen its first delivery of specially designed augmented reality Microsoft Hololens headsets.
An order of 5,000 headphones, believed to be worth approximately $373 million, was signed by Assistant Secretary of Acquisition Douglas Bush, Bloomberg (Opens in a new tab) Reported, after successful field tests (Opens in a new tab).
The new Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) modules are heavily adapted from the existing Microsoft-released Hololens 2 headphones, which feature an on-head display capable of delivering high-resolution night-time and thermal sensitive data carried by soldiers – all powered by Microsoft cloud services Azure.
Microsoft first revealed the news of its deal with the US military in November 2018, when the company was awarded a $480 million contract to produce 100,000 specialized HoloLens devices.
This was completed in March 2021 with a new partnership that could be worth $21.9 billion for about 120,000 units.
At the time, the company said that the IVAS hardware would provide “a platform that will keep soldiers safer and make them more effective. The software provides enhanced situational awareness, enabling information sharing and decision-making in a variety of scenarios.”
However, the deal was met with heavy criticism, both internally at Microsoft and by the world at large. CEO Satya Nadella was forced to defend Microsoft’s work with the US military in February 2019, saying it would not “withhold technology from the institutions we have elected in democracies to protect the freedoms we enjoy”.
The company has also been criticized for its role in winning the controversial $10 billion Joint Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract to revitalize the Pentagon’s cloud network in late 2020, a victory that still faces multiple legal challenges.
A final test report is now scheduled for October 2022, after which the US military will decide whether to continue with its purchase.
That report, released at the start of the military’s fiscal year, will need congressional approval, with the House and Senate appropriations committees already proposing a significant reduction in the Army’s request, pending test results.