U.S. Army and Microsoft join forces for augmented reality tech, ink deal worth $21.9 billion
The future of warfare is going to look a lot different in the coming years – quite literally for soldiers in the military. Microsoft has just won a contract with the United States Army to outfit soldiers with augmented reality headsets.
As a part of the Integrated Visual Augmentation System, a program developed by the U.S. Army to outfit soldiers with A.R. technology, the Seattle based tech company will be producing custom headsets that are based on their retail A.R. headset – the HoloLens. They run on the Azure cloud computing service that the company is also in charge of.
The deal is worth up to nearly $21.88 billion over the course of ten years, with the company set to produce 120,000 units with the order, however there is an option to opt out after 5 years.
This isn’t the first time the company and the military have made a deal on something like this – in 2019 the military awarded them a $480 million contract in 2019 to work on a prototype for what they will be moving forward with now.
What is A.R.?
Many people out there may be wondering what’s the difference between augmented reality and virtual reality?
The major difference between the two is that virtual reality is entirely created in whatever digital setup one has. So they are entirely immersed in this virtual world, with none of that being tied into the physical world aside from the gear they are using.
Augmented reality on the other hand, adds in virtual elements to our physical world. Imagine putting on a pair of goggles and looking through them – you will still see whatever is actually out in front of you, except you get additional virtual elements tied into what you see.
There are wide ranging applications for A.R. Some simple ones would be like using an app on your phone to look at the night sky and have the constellations labeled. Or like the wildly popular Pokemon Go, where users walk around cities to capture virtual Pokemon located in specific physical areas.
Virtual reality has even more room to play with, as the limit of creation inside a V.R. world is almost limitless. Plus, the industry is getting more and more cutting edge with things like the Teslasuit, which is a body suit worn alongside V.R. gear that simulates feelings like raindrops and physical contact.
However, as the technology improves there are going to be more and more ways to add to our reality. With this array of ways to use the technology, the military will be tailoring its use for specific situations for soldiers.
How can this be helpful for the Army?
The U.S. Army is always going to be looking for advantages for soldiers that are in combat, and augmented reality is simply another advantage in the field. Headsets will be able to relay information in a much more precise way than before, with the ability to let soldiers get intelligence in real time in their field of views.
Some of this information might be marking locations or getting detailed routes that are safer. For example, if there is a known IED on a certain road, a real-time GPS can reroute troops to steer clear of the danger.
Navigation is a big appeal of its use. Video game players are probably familiar with the practice of a compass being displayed at the top of their screens, which is something that would be very useful for soldiers in the field.
Another application is in something like facial recognition where the headset can be scanning faces in real time and alert a soldier if a known enemy is spotted, which is much easier to do than seeing the face themselves.
Microsoft put out a blog about the deal, saying “The program delivers enhanced situational awareness, enabling information sharing and decision-making in a variety of scenarios,” so there is a breadth of uses.
The Air Force is already using next gen virtual reality headsets with their pilots for training purposes as an efficient, safe way for troops to gain experience. AR headsets will likely be used in a similar fashion for training exercises.
Currently, if a soldier is training for something like seizing a building, they are dealing with things like pop up targets. With the AR headsets, they will be able to simulate more realistic environments with hologram enemies that replicate real combat better.
Previous incarnations of the retail version HoloLens 2 that the army had been using to test had issues with cold and wet weather, so there is still work to do to make it combat ready that will have to be taken care of with the custom units. The HoloLens 2 currently costs $3,500 for retail purchase, but the custom military version is likely more pricey.
The future of this type of technology
This is a sector that still has plenty of room to grow. As hardware and software become more capable, the look and function of AR technology will improve.
Right now, the holograms that are displayed are not exactly like looking at a 4K TV in your living room. But, it has gotten better over recent years, and as more powerful headsets are produced there will be an increase in clarity, which is an even bigger advantage for those using it in combat.
AR has penetrated numerous fields outside of the military and more common practices like gaming. It is growing in medical fields, architecture, space programs, and other areas. As application becomes more accessible and useful it will continue to grow.
In areas like the medical field it is common to use it as a demonstration to patients about what is actually happening with their procedures and gives a useful way for them to know what is going on.
According to CNN.com, the Next Gen of Virtual reality is tremendous and this new deal supports such studies.
The announcement was a plus for Microsoft investors, as it closed out the week up nearly 5 percent since the news came in, and nearly at an all time high for the company.
Story by Derek Saling