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In a nutshell: Microsoft's deal to supply the US Army with 121,500 Integrated Visual Augmentation Systems (IVAS) augmented reality glasses based on its HoloLens technology could be a $22 billion waste of taxpayer money, according to a Department of Defense oversight agency.
Back in 2018, Microsoft began prototyping the IVAS glasses and was awarded a $480 million contract by the Army for 100,000 units. In April last year, Microsoft won the contract to build the final version for soldiers in a deal worth $22 billion over ten years.
The system combines high-resolution night, thermal, and soldier-borne sensors into a heads-up display. It also leverages augmented reality and machine learning to enable a life-like mixed reality training environment, the military branch wrote.
Signs that the project could be running into trouble arrived a few months later when the AR goggles' rollout was pushed back from fiscal year 2021 to September 2022, but the Army said it remained fully committed to the deal.
Yet it seems the US Department of Defense's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) doesn't share the Army's enthusiasm, nothing that many soldiers are having issues with the devices. "Procuring IVAS without attaining user acceptance could result in wasting up to $21.88 billion in taxpayer funds to field a system that soldiers may not want to use or use as intended," it wrote in an audit report (via The Reg).
The report states that there has been both positive and negative user acceptance to the IVAS from soldiers. It never went into a lot of detail, though much of the content has been redacted. "If soldiers do not love IVAS and do not find it greatly enhances accomplishing the mission, then soldiers will not use it," the OIG concludes.
Douglas Bush, assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, responded to the report by saying the $21.8 billion figure was likely to be double what the military would spend on IVAS and represented a contract ceiling at the worst possible pricing structure.
Bush added that it's too early to tell soldiers' feelings toward the AR system, noting that most did not like night-vision goggles when they were introduced in the 1970s, but the devices are now used widely by the military. He also said feedback was subjective and influenced by factors such as fatigue and familiarity with the technology being tested.
Ultimately, the OIG argues that the Army should have ensured soldiers wanted to use the IVAS technology before spending $22 billion of taxpayer money on it, which sounds pretty sensible.