THE US Army will send soldiers onto battlefields of the future wearing sci-fi goggles that boost the wearer’s vision and awareness.
Microsoft announced on Wednesday that it has won a nearly $22billion contract to supply combat troops with the augmented reality headsets.
The technology is based on Microsoft’s HoloLens headsets, which were originally intended for the video game and entertainment industries.
Pentagon officials have described the futuristic technology as a way of boosting soldiers’ awareness of their surroundings and their ability to spot targets and dangers.
The Army calls the hardware its Integrated Visual Augmentation System.
Microsoft’s head-mounted HoloLens displays let people see virtual imagery superimposed over the physical world in front of them.
They can show anything from holograms in virtual game worlds to repair instructions floating over a broken gadget.
The Army’s website says soldiers tested the gadgets last year at Fort Pickett in Virginia.
It said the system could help troops gain an advantage on battlefields that are increasingly urban, congested, dark and unpredictable.
The Army began testing Microsoft’s system with a $480million contract in 2018 and said the headsets could be used for both training and in battle.
The new contract will enable Microsoft to mass produce units for more than 120,000 soldiers in the Army Close Combat Force.
Microsoft said the contract will amount to up to $21.9billion (£15.9billion) over the next decade, with a five-year base agreement that can be extended for another five years.
It’s not clear how it corresponds to the $740billion (£537billion) defense policy bill that Congress passed in January after overriding a veto by President Donald Trump.
The bill affirmed a three per cent pay raise for U.S. troops but included cuts to the headset initiative.
Virtual Reality vs Augmented Reality – what’s the difference?
Here’s what you need to know…
- Virtual reality involves using a headset to simulate a virtual world
- In a VR world, everything you see will be computer-generated
- Popular VR headsets include the HTC Vive and Facebook’s Oculus Rift
- Augmented reality lets you see the real world, but “augments” (or adds on) computer-generated elements
- This means you’ll be able to see computer images overlaid onto your real-world view
- For instance, you could wear glasses that overlay directions onto the road in front of you
- Popular AR headsets include Microsoft’s HoloLens and the Google Glass spectacles
Sen. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat who leads the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Wednesday that the technology is promising but its results must be closely tracked.
He added that “it’s our job to raise issues if the technology isn’t meeting the needs of our troops now and in the future.”
Microsoft President Brad Smith told Reed’s committee in February that the system could integrate thermal night vision and facial recognition to provide soldiers with real-time analytics on remote battlefields.
He also described how it could help in planning a hostage rescue operation by creating a digital twin of the building.
A group of Microsoft workers in 2019 petitioned the company to cancel its initial Army deal, arguing it would turn real-world battlefields into a video game.
Microsoft is among several tech companies that have sought to wow the gaming world with glitzy new virtual reality goggles over the past decade, though the efforts have largely fizzled.
Microsoft pivoted away from consumer applications for its second-generation HoloLens 2, introduced in 2019, which is the basis for the Army’s new gadgets.
Although Microsoft recently demonstrated a way to use the goggles to play the hit game Pokémon Go, it mostly pitches the devices as work tools to help surgeons, factory crews and others.
Users can often control what’s on their screens using hand gestures or voice commands.
The headset deal is part of Microsoft’s broader work as a defense contractor.
The Pentagon in September reaffirmed Microsoft as winner of a cloud computing contract potentially worth $10billion (£7.25billion).
The work has been delayed by a legal battle over rival Amazons claim that the bidding process was flawed.
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What do you make of the Microsoft deal? Let us know in the comments!
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