Microsoft has won a nearly $ 22 billion contract to supply the US Army’s combat troops with augmented reality headsets.
Microsoft and the military separately announced the deal on Wednesday.
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 – which the military calls its Integrated Visual Augmentation System – as a way to educate soldiers about their surroundings and their ability to spot targets and dangers.
Microsoft’s head-mounted HoloLens displays allow people to see virtual images superimposed on the physical world in front of them – from holograms in virtual game worlds to repair instructions floating around a broken gadget. Users can control what they see using hand gestures or voice commands.
The Army website says soldiers tested the gadgets last year at Fort Pickett, Va. He said the system could help troops gain an advantage “in increasingly urban, congested, dark and unpredictable battlefields.”
The military began testing Microsoft’s system with a $ 480 million contract in 2018 and said the helmets could be used for both training and actual battle. The new contract will allow Microsoft to mass-produce units for more than 120,000 soldiers in the Army’s Close Combat Force. Microsoft said the contract will be worth $ 21.88 billion over the next decade, with a five-year base agreement that can be extended for five years.
Microsoft President Brad Smith told the Senate Armed Services Committee in February that the system could integrate thermal night vision and facial recognition to provide soldiers with “real-time scans” on remote battlefields. He also described how it could help plan a hostage rescue operation by creating a ‘digital twin’ of the building.
In 2019, a group of Microsoft workers asked the company to rescind its original deal with the military, saying it would turn real-world battlefields into a video game.
Microsoft is one of several tech companies that have sought to wow the gaming world with glitzy new VR glasses over the past decade, though efforts have largely failed. Microsoft has moved away from mainstream apps for its second-generation HoloLens 2, introduced in 2019, which is the basis of the military’s new gadgets.
While Microsoft recently demonstrated a way to use the glasses to play the hit game Pokemon Go, it primarily presents the devices as work tools to help surgeons, factory teams, and the like.
The headphone deal is part of Microsoft’s larger work as a defense contractor. In September, the Pentagon reaffirmed Microsoft as the winner of a cloud computing contract with a potential value of $ 10 billion, although work was delayed by a legal battle over rival Amazon’s claim that the bidding process was flawed.