As part of their $480 million defense contract that we reported on last year , Microsoft’s preliminary, custom-built HoloLens for the US Army has been revealed in an article by CNBC, called the Integrated Visual Augmentation System, or the IVAS. The hardware of the IVAS is based off of the HoloLens 2 that Microsoft unveiled at Mobile World Congress in February , with the key distinction being a Flir thermal sensor for low-light vision.
According to the CNBC article, though the IAVS is still incredibly early in its development cycle, the Army plans to eventually use the headset for in and out of combat. There are a number of features that the Army is testing to provide mapping and positioning data to soldiers in the field, an aiming reticule to improve marksmanship, and medical information such as heart rate.
According to the CNBC article, while Microsoft is the biggest name in this project, there are actually 13 companies that won contracts for the IVAS, such as Flir and their thermal sensors. However, Mark Stephens, the director of acquisition and operations of the IVAS, revealed why Microsoft’s mixed reality (MR) solution was chosen over other companies, such as Magic Leap, who also bid, but lost the contract.
“We’ve been monitoring virtual and mixed reality and sensor miniaturization,” said Stephens. “We need to iterate often, and we found a partner with Microsoft that does that. It’s abnormal that a vendor has direct input from soldiers for like two weeks.”
U.S. military makes use of VR to train soldiers. The simulated Virtual world provide opportunities for teams to work together to prepare them for the chaos of combat.
However, there’s been controversy surrounding the deal with the Army from Microsoft employees, in which an open letter written by 100 Microsoft employees to CEO Satya Nadella demanded that the company cancel the contract.
“We are alarmed that Microsoft is working to provide weapons technology to the U.S. military, helping one country’s government ‘increase lethality’ using tools we built,” the letter said. “We did not sign up to develop weapons, and we demand a say in how our work is used.”
“We have a responsibility to communicate with these companies, but we need the best of American business. We want their help and we need their help,” said Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy, “We use the word ‘lethality,’ but if you look at this system, it improves situational awareness so you can be better at target discrimination.”
While the IVAS has only been test on for a few months, soldiers are already providing real-world feedback. The current model needs a fair bit of work before it makes its way out into the field, and McCarthy expects to begin sending it out to soldiers by 2022 and 2023.
Though the IVAS isn’t the military’s first use of extended realities (XR) for training , it provides a use case for ethics in XR. Though it also intends for non-combat purposes, the US Army still aims to use IVAS for combat, and thus casualties. While this fact is inseparable from military action, the fact remains nonetheless.
iGlasses. While today Apple is infamous for their use of “i” in their products, they weren’t the first ones to come up with the idea. In the 1990s, a company known as Virtual I/O came up with a headset that was capable of color 3D stereoscopic vision, as well as head tracking. Known as iGlasses, the device had a price tag of just under $1000. While the glasses were fully capable of delivering an immersive experience, they didn’t truly ignite the consumer market.
Simply put, it’s complicated.