Microsoft lands $479M contract to put the MR headsets into the hands of soldiers in active combat zones.
Mixed reality will be joining the ranks of the U.S. Army thanks to a huge $479 million contract between the legendary military branch and Microsoft. According to a Bloomberg article, Microsoft HoloLens technology will be used to increase the lethality of soldiers by enhancing their ability to detect, decide, and engage the enemy.
Several companies went through the bidding process, including HoloLens’s biggest competitor, Magic Leap, but it was Microsoft who ultimately won the bid to partner with the Army as a non-traditional defense contractor.
When the HoloLens first hit the market in 2016, the AR device received positive reviews among AR/VR industry experts, as well as leaders from other industries. Unfortunately, the device never caught on the way Microsoft had hoped for with roughly 50,000 initial sales worldwide.
This new contract would position the U.S. Army as Microsoft’s biggest and most influential HoloLens consumer, which could give the AR device a much-needed boost in terms of product awareness and sales. It could also seal the deal for AR’s role in modern day warfare, cementing its importance as a highly-effective tool during combat operations.
The hardware packed into Microsoft’s HoloLens will give the Army a big advantage when they eventually find themselves in stressful battle situations. Soldiers will have hands-free access to a device that uses multiple sensors for voice and hand gesture control, a built-in camera that can record on command,high-speed processing power, and Microsoft’s Dynamics 365 Remote Assist. Combined, the HoloLens has the ability to keep soldiers connected and informed on the battlefield in real-time.
The adoption of this new technology does raise several concerns, such as the necessary power requirements, as well as security – could the enemy hack into the devices?
If you do the math of the transaction, this means that the Army will be paying roughly $4,790 per headset, which is much more than what the Development Edition of the HoloLens cost in 2016, but slightly less than the Commercial Suite which costs $5,000 per headset. This is most likely because Microsoft will be supplying the Army with a military-grade HoloLens that will be able to withstand the grind of a combat situation, but will also include requested extra technology such as thermal sensing and night vision, the ability to measure vital signs such as breathing and “readiness”, the ability to monitor for concussions and hearing protection, and will be providing technical support and training to the military branch.
The U.S. Army has envisioned using an AR Tactical Helmet for some time now to provide sensor imagery with 3D mapping for improved operational maneuver, as well as increase a soldiers ability to maneuver the combat zone and improve survivability in dangerous operations. This contract would bring the Army’s vision to fruition.
A Microsoft spokesman told Bloomberg, “Augmented reality technology will provide troops with more and better information to make decisions. This new work extends our longstanding, trusted relationship with the Department of Defense to this new area.”
The U.S. Army along with the Israeli military have using the HoloLens as a training tool, but bringing the HoloLens to the battlefield could be vital to their survival in combat situations.
“We believe in the strong defense of the United States and we want the people who defend it to have access to the nation’s best technology, including from Microsoft,” said Microsoft president, Brad Little in a recent blog post. Little goes on to say, “You’ll find Microsoft technology throughout the American military, helping power its front office, field operations, bases, ships, aircraft and training facilities. We are proud of this relationship, as we are of the many military veterans we employ.”
HoloLens’s role would not be limited to front line combat action. The military could also put the Microsoft’s HoloLens into the hands of Army doctors and members of the military not in combat.
Through the contract, Microsoft is expected to deliver 2,500 headsets to the Army within the first two years, and then show that they are moving forward to large scale production that would meet the requirements of the agreement.
There’s no information about when the U.S. Army would expect all 100,000 HoloLens devices from Microsoft.
Image Credit: Microsoft / IDF