The Army has placed an order for more than 120,000 augmented reality headsets, a contract that could bring Microsoft at least $21 billion over 10 years. The IVAS, which is based on HoloLens headsets developed for entertainment and video games, enhances soldiers' awareness of their surroundings and helps them spot targets and hazards, Microsoft and the Army said. The wearer sees holograms overlaid over the real environments. A 2019 prototype used thermal imaging to show anyone in the dark, Microsoft reports, and displayed a weapon's aim. The IVAS headset also uses Microsoft Azure cloud services. The Army, which said the headsets were tested last year in Virginia, expects the technology to help troops "on battlefields that are increasingly urban, congested, dark and unpredictable," per the AP. The contract is for five years, with a five-year option.
The headsets deal is a major escalation of Microsoft's role as a defense contractor. The company won a Pentagon contract to provide cloud services that could add up to $10 billion in 2019, though Amazon has contested that process. Employees have objected to both contracts, saying in an open letter about the latest deal, "We did not sign up to develop weapons, and we demand a say in how our work is used." Microsoft executives answered that "we made a principled decision that we’re not going to withhold technology from institutions that we have elected in democracies to protect the freedoms we enjoy." The Army offered that it sees the technology as saving civilian lives by more accurately targeting enemy forces. (Read more augmented reality stories.)