Microsoft wins $480m contract to fit US military with AR headsets

29 Nov 2018

Image: Microsoft

The US military may use more than 100,000 AR headsets for combat training following a $480m deal with Microsoft.

The relationship between major tech companies and the military has been an uneasy one of late, but now a household name has announced a major deal for use with the US army.

According to Bloomberg, Microsoft has secured a $480m contract with the US government to provide its HoloLens augmented reality (AR) headsets to the military to enable “25 bloodless battles before the first battle”. The two-year deal could see more than 100,000 HoloLens devices used by troops for combat training, winning out from other industry bidders that included the well-funded start-up Magic Leap.

Those who have seen the tender document revealed that Microsoft’s military HoloLens is substantially different to the one pitched to consumers and other industries, and, in many cases, more powerful. Weighing less than a kilogram, it includes a field of view between 55 and 110 degrees.

When worn by a soldier, the HoloLens will be able to track specific weapons and see simulated fire coming from them, as well as display training videos featuring a number of other weaponry such as its Javelin missile systems. The military also hopes to incorporate night vision, thermal sensing and an ability to measure vital signs of the person wearing the device.

A spokesperson for Microsoft said: “AR 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.”

How Microsoft’s employees have reacted to the news remains to be seen, but the company was earlier this year embroiled in the growing debate around ethics and technology following its decision to partner with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), allowing the latter to use the Azure cloud platform.

At the time, an employee speaking to Gizmodo under anonymity said: “I’ll seriously consider leaving if I’m not happy with how they handle this.”

Updated, 1.45pm, 29 November 2018: This article was amended to attribute a quote to a spokesperson for Microsoft that was incorrectly attributed to a spokesperson for the Department of Defense.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic