Microsoft Bags Multi-Billion Dollar Contract to Make Modified HoloLens for US Army

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The U.S. Army has announced on Wednesday that Microsoft has won a contract worth up to $21.88 billion over 10 years, to supply them with HoloLens-based headsets. According to a CNBC report, it will involve Microsoft supplying over 120,000 headsets. Since 2018, Microsoft has had its fair share of working closely with the Army, and soldiers have been testing the Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) headsets over the past two years. These devices combine high-resolution night, thermal, and soldier-borne sensors into a heads-up display and enable soldiers to fight, rehearse and train in one system, the Army said in a statement.

“The system also leverages augmented reality and machine learning to enable a life-like mixed reality training environment so the Close Combat Force (CCF) can rehearse before engaging any adversaries,” reads a US Army statement, according to The Verge. The Army disclosed a version of its heads-up display in February, which was a newer, more ruggedized version. It could let operators of armored vehicles see through the walls of, for instance, a Bradley Fighting Vehicle. Poor sensor and GPS performance led to criticism for an earlier version.

Image: US Army

Back in 2018, the software maker won a $479 million contract to supply the US Army with a version of its HoloLens AR headset. Fierce resistance from some Microsoft employees followed after the move was declared, forcing CEO Satya Nadella to respond. However, on this new headset deal, the calls have not stopped the United States Department of Defense and Microsoft from working together.

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“Microsoft has worked closely with the US Army over the past two years, and together we pioneered Soldier Centered Design to enable rapid prototyping for a product to provide Soldiers with the tools and capabilities necessary to achieve their mission,” says Alex Kipman, Microsoft’s HoloLens inventor.

The newer IVAS. Image: US Army

Since the second version of HoloLens launched in 2019, Microsoft hasn’t made any significant hardware changes but has been gradually improving the software alongside gesture improvements. The Verge reports that “recently, this has expanded to include Microsoft Mesh, the company’s vision to support what Microsoft calls “holoportation,” allowing people to appear as themselves in a virtual space.”

While the initial wave of AR headsets like the HoloLens, Snapchat Spectacles, and Google Glass wound up pivoting their business models from end-users to industrial, commercial, and military applications, things appear to be heating up again in the space. As we reported earlier, Facebook has nearly one-fifth of its employees working on VR and AR while has Apple charged its former hardware boss with overseeing AR and VR specifically. Also, in recent times, Samsung, Snap, Qualcomm, and others have been showing off more prototypes.

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