Microsoft has won a contract to provide US Army soldiers with augmented reality vision systems. The contract is worth $21.88 billion.
Under the contract, Microsoft will provide 120,000 headsets to the Army. The contract duration is 10 years. A spokesperson from Microsoft told CNBC.
A 3% increase in Microsoft shares has been observed after the announcement was made last week.
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Since 2018, the company has been working closely with the US Army on the project named the ‘Integrated Visual Augmentation System’ (IVAS).
The program is considered as the centerpiece for future plans to integrate the new visual technologies into the headset. The headset displays which were only available for fighter pilots before will now be used by ground forces to achieve better situational awareness.
‘Mixed reality’ goggles contract duration:
Microsoft will provide the HoloLens augmented reality headsets to the US Army in 10 years.
Microsoft has already started working on the prototypes of IVAS (Integrated Visual Augmented System) in 2018. The prototype manufacturing cost was $480 million, which the Army has already paid to test the augmented reality headsets. Under the new agreement, the company will start the serial production of the HoloLens.
According to CNBC, Microsoft will earn meaningful profit from the product that it has created after years of research besides its core areas such as software production and operating systems.
According to the Breaking Defense, Army spokesperson said, the contract is ‘IDIQ-like’ Indefinite Quantity/Indefinite Delivery for the first five years.
Features of the HoloLens:
The standard HoloLens which the company has made for commercial purposes provide people with holograms shown over their real environment and people can interact with it using voice and hand gestures.
The new HoloLens Headset for the military has a lot more functionality than the standard one. It will help the soldiers to find the direction using a compass. It also displays maps and has thermal imaging that will help soldiers to see people at night. It will also show the aim of a weapon.
Breaking Defense described the features of the IVAS,
- Goggles display tactical data such as points towards friendly forces, objectives, and threats
- Targeting crosshairs linked wirelessly to a smart gunsight on the soldier’s weapon
- Live video streaming from the helicopters, drones, ground vehicles, and other sensors
- Shows off virtual enemies and weapons on real terrain, for training purpose
- Integrated with AI to help identify and report priority targets
According to Alex Kipman, a Microsoft Technical Fellow wrote in an official Microsoft blog post, the headset is based on augmented reality and HoloLens using Microsoft Azure cloud services. “It will keep soldiers safer and make them more effective. The program delivers enhanced situational awareness, enabling information sharing and decision-making in a variety of scenarios.”
Microsoft has been working with the US Army for the past two years to provide soldiers with capabilities and tools that will help them to achieve their missions in an efficient way. Kipman added.
According to the press release from the US Army, the next-generation goggles have night vision and situational awareness capabilities that will help the armed forces in close combat situations.
By adding multiple technologies to a single platform will help soldiers to train, rehearse, and fight in future combats. High-resolution night, thermal, and sensors to the headset will improve target engagement, decision-making, and situational awareness to handle the operations against the adversaries.
The HoloLens also includes the machine learning capabilities to help the Close Combat Force (CCF) to rehearse in the mixed-reality environment before performing any operation against the enemy.
The employees from Microsoft are criticizing the company’s IVAS contract with the US Army. In an open letter, workers demand the cancellation of the agreement with the Army and call for ‘stricter ethical guidelines’.
“We are a global coalition of Microsoft workers, and we refuse to create technology for warfare and oppression. We are alarmed that Microsoft is working to provide weapons technology to the US Military,” Microsoft workers said.
They further added that by helping one country by ‘increasing lethality’ using tools we built is unacceptable.”We did not sign up to develop weapons.”
The induction of mixed reality goggles to the army for training purposes will help to train soldiers for future combat. It will also increase the soldier’s mission success rate by providing them with the virtual and augmented environment before going to the real combat environments.
The US Army’s contract with the tech giant and global software market leader is an alarming situation though because in the past Microsoft did not make any contract to build military-grade equipment or platforms.
If Microsoft just made the contract with the US Army for earning profit then it is not a good way to do so. Because people trust and use the company’s products worldwide and if the same technology will be used for killing people by training the soldiers on their platforms in future then the revenue of the company will surely be affected in longer-term rather if they are earning profit now.