Microsoft’s HoloLens Augmented Reality Technology is Being Militarized

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Microsoft’s HoloLens headset is an impressive piece of augmented reality tech that might one day change the way we interface with the world around us. The technology was originally designed with consumers in mind but soon it will be primarily used by the military. After a lengthy bidding war, Microsoft secured a $480 million contract to supply the US Army with new AR headsets. The military prototypes won’t be identical to the consumer-grade HoloLens headsets but they will be based on the same technology.

As part of the contract, Microsoft is required to provide the military with over 100,000 headsets for a Department of Defense initiative dubbed the Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS). 2,500 of these systems must be supplied within two years. Overall, a pretty tall order considering that the company only sold around 50,000 HoloLens headsets to consumers so far. However, it’s worth noting that HoloLens kits cost between $3,000 and $5,000 so they’re not exactly affordable. But while regular consumers may scoff at the HoloLens’ high price tag, the US Army can definitely afford such tech thanks to its $600 billion yearly budget.

Microsoft is Required to Significantly Upgrade Current HoloLens Headsets

So why would soldiers need augmented reality headsets anyway? “Augmented reality technology will provide troops with more and better information to make decisions,” said Microsoft is a statement. As far as the US government is concerned, it describes the IVAS initiative as a way to “increase lethality by enhancing the ability to detect, decide and engage before the enemy”. Basically, what all this means is that the military wants to use HoloLens technology for combat simulations. At least, not right away.

Augmented reality tech will initially be used to train soldiers but the ultimate goal is to use these headsets for actual combat missions. According to official documents, the headsets will need to weight around 1.5 pounds and be compatible with current military helmets. The HoloLens military prototypes will also need to have night vision, thermal vision, and an adjustable field of view. Other features include hearing protection and sensors that can measure vital signs. The military contract will run longer than two years only if Microsoft can have the enhanced HoloLens headsets ready for full-scale production by the end of this trial period.

Google Turns Down JEDI Project as the Military is Recruiting Gamers

Microsoft’s interest in military contracts continues to raise a lot of eyebrows. The company recently also tried to get its hands on a $10 billion contract for a different military initiative called the JEDI project. This particular initiative caused a lot of backlash as it involves providing the US Army with artificial intelligence systems. WIth Microsoft Microsoft having secured the HoloLens tech contract, it’s possible it might lose interest in other military initiatives. The JEDI contract was turned down by main competitor Google and is now likely to go to Amazon.

Dystopian initiatives aside, the US Army is currently looking at gaming as a potential new recruitment tool. No joke. The military announced earlier this month that it’s eSports teams for some of the most popular video games around. These teams will even compete in professional tournaments across the US. The first such tournament is a Tekken 7 championship that will take place on December 8th. The winner of this tournament will go on to represent the military at Pax South 2019.

Jason Moth

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