US Army eyes the future, awards Microsoft $21.9B contract for AR headsets

Microsoft is building 120k advanced AR headsets for the US Army. It’s not the company’s first foray into National Defense.


April 2, 2021

You know Microsoft is up to something interesting when its newest gadget feels straight out of “Call of Duty.”

This week, the US Army said it’s dishing out a massive contract to the tech company to supply advanced mixed reality headsets for soldiers.

It’s not Microsoft’s first foray into national defense:

  • In 2018, the Army landed a $480m deal with Microsoft to build prototypes of the Integrated Visual Augmented System (IVAS)
  • In 2019, Microsoft took home the Pentagon’s $10B cloud-computing contract, beating out Bezos in an underdog win.

Not long after, the Pentagon tossed $7.6B at General Dynamics Corp. to help replace its IT systems, including with Microsoft’s Office 365.

The AR device is based off Microsoft’s HoloLens

For context, the consumer version — which places interactive holograms over futuristic spectacles — runs $3.5k a pop.

But the Army’s version wasn’t built for consumers; it was built for war:

  • The headsets integrate high-resolution night, thermal, and soldier-borne sensors into a unified display
  • The AR features improve situational awareness, target engagement, and informed decision making
  • The tools offer soldiers life-like mixed reality training environments

The plans are for Microsoft to deliver 120k of the headsets over 10 years.

But some at Microsoft aren’t big fans

Previously, some employees unsuccessfully petitioned the company to hold off on its cloud-computing and AR contracts, saying they didn’t sign up to build weapons.

In response, CEO Satya Nadella said the company sees no problem building tools that help protect democratic freedoms.

Today, AR shows no signs of slowing down. Facebook reportedly dedicates 1/5 of its staff to the space, and Apple has its own headset in the works.

Our only question: What ever happened to not sitting too close to the TV?

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