Microsoft is taking another turn at testing its HoloLens-based combat goggles with the US military. The company has confirmed to Engadget that it’s delivering improved IVAS (Integrated Visual Augmentation System) 1.2 devices to the Army before the end of July. These updated augmented reality models are “slimmer, lighter and more balanced” than before, Microsoft says. That, in turn, should make them more comfortable and improve soldiers’ performance.
The Army tells Bloomberg two squads will test 20 prototype IVAS goggles in late August. They’ll gauge low-light functionality, reliability and whether or not they make soldiers feel ill. Some testers complained last year of nausea, headaches and eye strain, while others weren’t happy with the bulk, narrow field of view and a display glow that could give away a soldier’s presence at night. Key features also failed relatively frequently.
The HoloLens tech is meant to improve battlefield awareness. Infantry can see each other’s positions, get vital health stats and use night vision that’s less conspicuous. They can better coordinate assaults and warn if there are signs of injury or fatigue. The technology might reach the field within a few years if the August test is successful. The Army would award a contract between July and September 2024 for a second field study, and could move to an operational combat test as soon as April 2025. The Army could deploy IVAS months afterward.
Much is riding on this test, however. While the Army could spend as much as $21.9 billion in ten years for up to 121,000 IVAS units, Congress blocked further orders of the earlier goggles in January following reports of problems. Politicians instead gave Microsoft $40 million to rework the hardware. If there are still issues, the Army could cancel the program. It would not only cost Microsoft a lucrative contract, but would cast further doubt on HoloLens itself. The team lost lead developer Alex Kipman last year following misconduct allegations, and layoffs early this year dealt a serious blow to the mixed reality division.