Microsoft is delivering the first batch of HoloLens IVAS to the US Army, Bloomberg reports.
The delivery is the first in the US Army’s Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) program, which aims to equip infantry with AR helmets for situational awareness and convenient display of integrated sensor data. The contract is worth up to $21.88 billion over 5-10 years with a maximum eventual order of 120,000 units.
In 2018 Microsoft won the $480 million evaluation contract for just over 2500 prototype units, based on HoloLens 2 with some modifications and an extra sensor. But the evaluation found the hardware not rugged enough for military use and identified problems with the sensors at night. In the years following the hardware was significantly upgraded – it’s more ruggedized and houses many more sensors. The field of view was significantly increased from roughly 40°x30° to 80°x40°. That’s wider than any other known see-through AR headset on the market.
The initial order of 5000 finalized units, made last year, had been placed on hold late last year following further concerns about device performance. But in August the US Army’s Assistant Secretary for Acquisition issued a directive to accept the order based on positive new test results.
Reported potential use cases for the headset include:
- overlaying icons on friendly units, objectives, threats, and points of interest
- built-in night vision & thermal view modes
- live picture-in-picture feeds from drones, including the Soldier Borne Sensor (SBS) personal drone
- simulated weapons & enemies for training exercises
- scanning nearby people for high temperature
- facial recognition for hostage rescue situations
The Army is also testing integrations with vehicles, such as soldiers being able to see-through the walls of the armored vehicle carrying them, so on dismounting they’ll be situationally aware.
Some Microsoft employees had protested providing technology for the military, but CEO Satya Nadella responded by saying “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”.
Bloomberg reports that a final test report of the device’s performance is expected in October. This test should guide Congress to decide whether to continue to give the program the full funds requested. The US Army is reportedly “confident that the program will succeed”, but The House and Senate appropriations panels had proposed “deep cuts to the Army’s request pending the test results”.