US Army to take delivery of first Microsoft HoloLens devices after successful testing

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(Picture: Microsoft)
The US Army’s partnership with Microsoft has taken a U-turn. After several months of disappointments, the branch is finally getting its first batch of HoloLens augmented reality (AR) glasses.

The controversial partnership dates back to 2018, when Microsoft won a $480 million contract to supply AR technology to the US military. Their common goal? To “increase lethality by improving the ability to detect, decide and engage before the enemy”. Some of Microsoft’s own employees protested the company’s bid for the contract, noting that it was inappropriate for the tech giant to develop tools that could potentially be used to wage war. But Microsoft did it anyway, and aside from that most recent exception, it’s been fumbling the bag ever since.

In March, Business Insider obtained an internal Microsoft memo in which an employee said the HoloLens team was “expecting negative feedback from the customer.” The employee went on to say that soldiers’ expectations were low, which might work in Microsoft’s favor given that “the delivery delta might not be significant.” HoloLens devices, which are officially called Integrated Visual Augmentation Systems (IVAS), are said to perform poorly in low light and have degraded thermal imaging performance. Just a month later, a US government watchdog warned that the Pentagon may have wasted its time and money on the deal, which at the time fetched as much as $22 billion. .

(Picture: Microsoft)

But things seem to have reversed since. Assistant Acquisition Secretary Douglas Bush reportedly authorized delivery of an undisclosed number of devices, according to Bloomberg. Field trials reportedly yielded encouraging results. “We did a good test and we will learn from it,” Bush said in a statement. “The military remains confident that the program will succeed.”

That doesn’t mean it’s all butterflies and rainbows, though. Army spokesman Jamal Beck said in a separate statement that the branch was “adjusting its fielding plan to allow time to address deficiencies,” which were not further detailed. Nothing seems to have been said about Microsoft’s ability (or failure) to fix the aforementioned low-light and thermal imaging issues, which are likely the basis of the military’s potential success with the program. Bloomberg reports that the Pentagon’s Director of Operational Testing and Evaluation is working on a final test report expected next month, when those adjustments could be revealed.

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