Augmented Reality headsets can be used to train people, rehearse and even fight. Unlike Virtual Reality headsets, AR headsets project images and graphics onto the real world, overlapping with reality. Microsoft has just won a contract for such AR headsets. The contract was from the US Army to build more than 120,000 custom HoloLens augmented reality headsets.
The contract is worth up to about $21.88 billion, spanning over 10 years. Following the announcement, Microsoft shares went up 1.7$ to $235.77 per share on Wednesday. This might be Microsoft’s biggest contract that doesn’t involve their operating systems or any of their productivity software.
A normal HoloLens costs around $3,500 and enables hand and voice gesture interactions. Alex, a technical fellow at Microsoft, said in his blog post that “The IVAS headset, based on HoloLens and augmented by Microsoft Azure cloud services, delivers a platform that will keep soldiers safer and make them more effective. The program delivers enhanced situational awareness, enabling information sharing and decision-making in a variety of scenarios.”
Basically, it makes the training sessions feel more like games. Displaying a compass or minimap shows weapon crosshairs, and even thermal imaging to reveal people in the dark. The contract has a five-year base period with an optional five years depending on how Microsoft delivers.
This isn’t their first contract with the Army. Back in 2018, Microsoft has a contract of $480 million to give the Army prototypes of the Integrated Visual Augmented System or IVAS. In 2019, Microsoft secured a contract to provide cloud services to the Defense Department, beating Amazon.
Some employees have come out to say that “We did not sign up to develop weapons, and we demand a say in how our work is used”. This was written in an open letter regarding the new contract. The CEO Satya Nadella, however, defended the contract saying 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.”