Microsoft Corp. has won a $480 million contract to supply Hololens prototypes for augmented reality devices to be used in training systems for the Army to simulate combat missions and training, the Army said. the program is called Integrated Visual Augmentation System, or IVAS, and will push the U.S. Military into the future of modern combat. The deal will be pioneering hololens military applications.
The contract will allow the military to purchase over 100,000 HMDs over time. This initiative by the military will help “increase lethality [of soldiers] by enhancing [their] ability to detect, decide and engage before the enemy.” Combat with soldier equipped with virtual overlays of situational data will create notable imbalances on the battlefield.
“Augmented reality technology will provide troops with more and better information to make decisions. This new work extends our longstanding, trusted relationship with the Department of Defense to this new area,” a Microsoft spokesman said in an emailed statement reported by Bloomberg. The Department of Defense, along with other government Military departments, stand to benefit from this deal as well.
The U.S. Army and Israeli Military have already used Mixed Reality HoloLens military training, but their plans for live combat using augmented reality headsets on soldiers would bea significant step forward.
The technology would create virtual imagery of information important to soldiers as they navigate the battlefield and communicate with their generals. This is said to dramatically increase situational awareness in a way that cannot be achieved with existing methods or technology.
HoloLens is one of the few consumer market headsets, but the consumer market for augmented reality doesn’t really exist yet – Google Glass is a painful reminder of pushing head- mounted displays to the masses too soon. According to the European Patent office, Microsoft only sold 50,000 Hololens devices to date, which is half the number the U.S. military could end up buying.
From this contract with the military, Microsoft will be enabled to pursue even more advanced technologies for adoption on their Mixed Reality platform. These new technologies will vary from the consumer versions of the Hololens in a few key respects.
In the request for proposal (RFP) the Army sent to potential partners, it outlined what it wanted to incorporate into the soldier-wearable. In the bidding process, The list of requirements included; night vision, thermal sensing, measurement of vital signs – like breathing and heart rate – something that contributes to the soldier’s “readiness,” – and a monitor for concussions as well as features for hearing protection.
During the bidding process, the potential contractors were notified that the selected augmented reality systems developer would need to deliver 2,500 headsets within two years, and be capable of full-scale manufacturing for broader deployment.
The Army met with 25 companies interested in being considered for some portion of the project. Magic Leap’s AR headset – the main competitor to the HoloLens – was was considered along with other more traditional defense military contractors for the military contract, including Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Corp., Lockheed Martin Corp., and Raytheon Co. Ultimately, Magic Leap was not selected as the provider augmented reality technology to the troops. The Leap, however, provides a needed boost toward consumer adoption of Augmented reality – and their Virtual Reality Headsets are not being considered for this contract because of the marked difference in Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality applications. The missions of the two are both helpful, but Augmented reality is better suited for imagery that needs to overlay on the real world – where Virtual reality Applications are provide its viewers with a fully synthetic and artificial experience.
Facilitative Reality technology, virtual, Augmented, and Mixed, are being explored by the public and private secores for applications beyond military applications. with the goal to replicate reality for training, education, entertainment, and medical, etc. But, companies like Microsoft are limited to doing what will make them money, and when the U.S. Government – who is the largest consumer and spender in the world – indicates they want to spend money with you, your technology roadmap will go whereever that customer dictacts – within reason, of course.
The tech industry has an interesting history when it come to cooperating with law enforcement. The relationships have become increasingly tense over the last few years, as employees at Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Amazon.com Inc. being opposed to government contracts, and Apple’s notorious refusal to create a compromised version of iOS with a backdoor for the FBI.
Earlier this year at Microsoft, hundreds of workers signed a petition criticizing a contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The contract said Microsoft would be delivering AI technology. Again in October, Microsoft employees strongly opposed the company’s bid on a multi-billion dollar U.S. military cloud contract and urged Microsoft not to take it. “Many Microsoft employees don’t believe that what we build should be used for waging war,” they wrote in a blog post.
Later that month, Microsoft’s President and Chief Legal Officer, Brad Smith, said the company would continue to sell software to the U.S. Army. Smith wrote that employees with ethical qualms with projects would be allowed to move to other new work within the company.
“Artificial intelligence, augmented reality and other technologies are raising new and profoundly important issues, including the ability of weapons to act autonomously. As we have discussed these issues with governments, we’ve appreciated that no military in the world wants to wake up to discover that machines have started a war,” he wrote. “But we can’t expect these new developments to be addressed wisely if the people in the tech sector who know the most about technology withdraw from the conversation.”