A controversial deal between Microsoft and the US military to buy 6,900 HoloLens-based augmented reality headsets at a cost of $400 million has been blocked by Congress. As a consolation, $40 million has been approved for Microsoft to build a new, improved version that soldiers will not hate.
For the record, Microsoft was awarded a $480 million contract to supply the U.S. Army with Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) headsets in 2018. These devices combine high-resolution night vision, thermal and soldier-worn sensors into a single head-up display. Powered by Microsoft Azure cloud services, they also use augmented reality and machine learning to create an augmented-definition learning environment.
The initial deal was extended in March 2021, ensuring that within a decade Microsoft would deliver finalized production builds, replacement parts and support in a deal potentially worth billions of dollars.
However, the agreement with IVAS was fraught with problems from the start. There were delays that pushed the prototype order back by a year, and a warning from a Department of Defense watchdog that the whole thing could be a waste of taxpayer money. And most disturbingly, there are also reports that soldiers hate them because they can cause headaches, eye strain and nausea. Such symptoms were noted by 80% of testers within three hours of starting use – and that’s not even mentioning that the device does not fulfill basic functions. One of the testers stated that due to construction errors, the sets can even lead to the death of military personnel.
In a summary of United States Defense Appropriations (PDF) there is information that the IVAS program will not receive the $ 400 million requested by the army to buy 6900 kits. Instead, it will receive $40 million, which will go to the development of a new, better version.
Last month, the Army announced it would place orders for IVAS version 1.2 ready-made goggle kits “after qualification and operational testing.”
The army has already ordered 5,000. IVAS units and donated $125 million to Microsoft to create a revised model. It still plans to spend up to $21.9 billion over the next ten years on as many as 121,000 kits.
Microsoft doesn’t seem worried about the congressional decision. A corporate spokesman said The Register:
The IVAS build and test stages are a critical part of the device development process. Ultimately, this phase will help us refine and enhance the technology to provide unparalleled protection and capability to U.S. troops.