Microsoft wins $21 billion Army contract for augmented reality headsets

29 April 2021

Soldiers wearing the Integrated Visual Augmentation System while mounted in a Stryker vehicle in Joint Base Lewis-McCord, Washignton, February 2021. (Image: US Army / Courtney Bacon)

Microsoft is to sell augmented reality headsets to the US army in a deal worth up to $21.9bn over 10 years. The headsets are based on its HoloLens product, which allows users to see holograms laid over their actual environment.

The Washington Post reports:

The U.S. Army has awarded Microsoft a contract worth up to $21 billion for augmented reality headsets that are supposed to help soldiers map the battlefield, select targets and stay aware of possible threats by overlaying intelligence information directly onto their field of vision.

The Integrated Visual Augmentation System, known as IVAS, is part of a broader set of investments meant to make military intelligence data more useful to deployed soldiers, who must quickly make decisions in far-flung battlefields based on the limited information available to them. Many of these so-called “tactical edge” devices build on recent advancements in cloud computing that were developed in the commercial business world.

A release published by the Army on Wednesday afternoon explained that the IVAS system would help it “achieve overmatch against current and future adversaries.” A separate blog post published by Microsoft and attributed to Alex Kipman, an augmented reality technologist, said the IVAS program “delivers enhanced situational awareness, enabling information sharing and decision-making in a variety of scenarios.”

CNBC reports:

It follows a $480 million contract Microsoft received to give the Army prototypes of the Integrated Visual Augmented System, or IVAS, in 2018. The new deal will involve providing production versions.

The standard-issue HoloLens, which costs $3,500, enables people to see holograms overlaid over their actual environments and interact using hand and voice gestures. An IVAS prototype that a CNBC reporter tried out in 2019 displayed a map and a compass and had thermal imaging to reveal people in the dark. The system could also show the aim for a weapon.

“The IVAS headset, based on HoloLens and augmented by Microsoft Azure cloud services, delivers a platform that will keep soldiers safer and make them more effective,” Alex Kipman, a technical fellow at Microsoft and the person who introduced the HoloLens in 2015, wrote in a blog post. “The program delivers enhanced situational awareness, enabling information sharing and decision-making in a variety of scenarios.”

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