What just happened? Microsoft's controversial $21.9 billion deal with the US Army has resulted in the military branch's first delivery of augmented reality goggles based on the Hololens design. Assistant Secretary for Acquisition Douglas Bush has cleared around 5,000 sets of goggles following delays over concerns about their performance.
It was back in 2018 when Microsoft was awarded a $480 million contract to provide the US Army with HoloLens-based augmented reality headsets. The agreement was expanded in March 2021, ensuring Microsoft will provide finalized production versions, parts, and support in a deal potentially worth up to $21.9 billion across a decade. The Army ordered an initial 5,000 units, valued at $373 million, with around 121,000 to be delivered over the course of the deal.
Bloomberg writes that the Army is now accepting some of the first batch of goggles. The delivery had been on hold until more rigorous testing had taken place. Based on the results, the service "is adjusting its fielding plan to allow for time to correct deficiencies and also field to units that are focused on training activities," said spokesman Jamal Beck.
The Army says the new Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) combines high-resolution night, thermal, and soldier-borne sensors into a heads-up display. Powered by Microsoft Azure cloud services, it also leverages augmented reality and machine learning to enable a life-like mixed reality training environment.
Microsoft's partnership with the military has been far from smooth. Employees at the Redmond firm wrote an open letter expressing their dismay at the deal, forcing CEO Satya Nadella to respond. As for the first deliveries of the headsets, that was supposed to happen in the fiscal year 2021 but was delayed by a year.
April saw a Department of Defense oversight agency warn that the huge amount of money the Army was spending on the goggles could be a waste of taxpayer money as many soldiers weren't fans of IVAS. Bush noted that there was similar pushback against night-vision goggles when they were introduced in the 1970s, but the devices are now used widely by the military.
A final test report on IVAS, which will help the Army decide whether to continue purchasing the goggles, is set to arrive next month. It will also help Congress decide whether to approve the $424.2 million the Army wants to spend on the program. The House and Senate appropriations panels have already proposed deep cuts to the request pending the test results.