Microsoft won a decisive $480 million defense contract with the U.S. Army late last year to bring the company’s AR hardware platform to the battlefield. Now CNBC has gone hand-on with the modified headset based on the enterprise-focused HoloLens 2.

Dubbed the Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS), the headset is still in its initial phases. At the moment, IVAS is ostensibly a stock HoloLens 2 sporting custom software, however CNBC learned the headset was also outfitted with a ball-shaped thermal sensor created by Flir, a company creating thermal and visible light imaging hardware; current night vision can be obfuscated by smoke, however thermal imaging doesn’t suffer from that problem, making it an ideal addition to the headset.

The Department of the Army has secured 12 such sensor contracts in total, so there’s no telling what else will come to the headset and in what configuration in the near future.

Image courtesy CNBC

Under Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy said he expects a more slimmed-down version of the headset based on HoloLens 2 to materialize as soon as 2022 and 2023, and maintains the Army will begin “fielding it to thousands and thousands of soldiers across the force.”

As with all things military-related, no candid video or images were permitted, however the Army did provide a few approved images of the headset as it is now.

Image courtesy CNBC

Trying on one of the IVAS headsets, CNBC’s Todd Haselton maintains he was able to see 3D images, information, his actual location on a map, and a thermal view of the world around him.

It gave me a birds-eye view of the building I was standing in and also showed a nearby building. It’s like any satellite image you can find online.

But as I turned my head, a small arrow icon representing my location also turned. I could also see several other dots representing my other “squad members” who were also wearing the headsets.

The Army currently intends on using the headsets for training purposes during its rapid iteration phase—it doesn’t fit under a helmet just yet—however it’s clear that the potential advantages will be a boon for soldiers on the ground in the future. Seemingly taking its cues from first-person shooters, Haselton also remarked that the system displays a weapon’s reticle as well.

“Whatever we do on the ground plays off of what we do in training for real-time missions and the real world,” one soldier said. “We might not know what [the battlefield] looks like, but we can predict and take Google images and implement that into the IVAS. It’s a huge boost to rehearsal.”

a mock-up of what the overhead map looked like, Image courtesy CNBC

IVAS also provides what the Army calls “after-action” reports, giving soldiers a summary of their accuracy and performance after a training exercise. The headset can also gather data such as a soldier’s heart rate to improve training and marksmanship.

Speaking to a group of special forces soldiers tasked with IVAS training, the soldiers continuously referred to the headset as a “combat multiplier,” or a supporting technology that significantly increases the relative combat strength of a force while actual force ratios remain constant.

Hands-on: HoloLens 2 is a More Than Just a Larger Field of View

All of this hasn’t gone unchallenged though. After the defense contract was announced in November, a coalition of Microsoft employees wrote an open letter to company CEO Satya Nadella and President Brad Smith, stating that “intent to harm is not an acceptable use of our technology.”

While the company has previously licensed tech to the U.S. Military, it has never crossed the lines into weapons development. With this contract, it does. The application of HoloLens within the IVAS system is designed to help people kill. It will be deployed on the battlefield, and works by turning warface into a simulated “video game,” further distancing soldiers from the grim stakes of war and the reality of bloodshed.

“I appreciate their concerns,” McCarthy told CNBC, referencing the letter, “but these are the same men and women that are protecting their freedoms so they can develop this technology.”

Evidenced by CNBC’s recent hands-on with the soon-to-evolve headset, it appears Microsoft hasn’t given into any of the group’s demands, which stipulated cancelling the IVAS contract, stopping development on all weapons technologies, and appointing an independent ethics review board.

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Well before the first modern XR products hit the market, Scott recognized the potential of the technology and set out to understand and document its growth. He has been professionally reporting on the space for nearly a decade as Editor at Road to VR, authoring more than 3,500 articles on the topic. Scott brings that seasoned insight to his reporting from major industry events across the globe.
  • daveinpublic

    The future is here. AF.

  • Fourfoldroot

    Cool. Just try to encourage the end y to stay within the tiny field of view and this will be great.
    Seriously though, this is the type of thing that will help VR grow too, so it can get not be a good thing. Not to mention helping the American military (I’m British, but appreciate the job they do).

  • Nepenthe

    I know it’s popular to think this is outrageous and terrible, but I think a technologically advanced military is probably a good thing overall, or at least neutral.

    Do I have problems with how military power is used? Oh hell yes, of course I do. But I don’t think bringing new technology to the military, in and of itself, contributes to that one way or the other.

    It just doesn’t make sense, in my opinion, to purposefully hamstring the military in terms of technology because of ideological differences or moral compunctions about the way the military in general is used or abused. I’d rather see high technology than more bombs. I’d rather see the military keep ahead of other militaries (China, for example). And, in the fullness of time, I’d rather see wars or skirmishes fought with technology as a proxy than with real human bodies.

    • Nepenthe

      Of course, maybe this will be the dystopia we’re entering:

      • doug

        Google “predator pilot whistleblower” and behold.

    • iThinkMyCatIsAFlea

      Just imagine what those bastards could’ve done in Vietnam with this kind of technology.

      Just look what they did without it:

      “The Mỹ Lai Massacre (/ˌmiːˈlaɪ/; Vietnamese: Thảm sát Mỹ Lai [tʰâːm ʂǎːt mǐˀ lāːj] (About this soundlisten)) was the Vietnam War mass murder of unarmed South Vietnamese civilians by U.S. troops in Sơn Tịnh District, South Vietnam, on 16 March 1968. Between 347 and 504 unarmed people were killed by the U.S. Army soldiers from Company C, 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 11th Brigade, 23rd (Americal) Infantry Division. Victims included men, women, children, and infants. Some of the women were gang-raped and their bodies mutilated as were children as young as 12.[1][2] Twenty-six soldiers were charged with criminal offenses, but only Lieutenant William Calley Jr., a platoon leader in C Company, was convicted. Found guilty of killing 22 villagers, he was originally given a life sentence, but served only three and a half years under house arrest.”

      • Nepenthe

        But what argument are you making here? That we should disband our military? That we should purposefully prevent our military from using technology past a certain level?

        If neither of those, then how does the genuine atrocity you posted about specifically relate to AR and its use by the military?

  • NooYawker

    It’s an interface, it’s not a bomb or missile. There’s nothing wrong with MS providing this tech to the military. Most of us don’t support going to war, but I’m sure everyone wants our friends and family to be safe if they’re in the military.

    • dogtato

      That’s a good point, this isn’t inherently a weapon. A lot of it would be very useful for non-military security, like securing events or a lone guard walking around a building after hours.

      Though the reticle starts to cross the line. With that, I think it’s part of a weapon. It’s hard to make the case that there are civilian applications for that, since it would sort of take the sport out of hunting or target shooting, but it’d still make sense for law enforcement.

    • DanDei

      Play one round of Battlefield with minimap and one without ever looking at it and then tell me again this is not a tool to kill better.

      • NooYawker

        It’s also a tool to keep you safer. If it were your brother wouldn’t you want him to be as safe as possible? I know these days wars is fought over oil and profit but that’s not why most soldiers sign up. They deserve to be kept safe.

        • mezzb

          Tools like this often keep surrounding populations safer. If you’re targeting a “hostile” something like this could track it more accurately than eyes alone – leading to accidentally entering the wrong building etc. Also more accurate fire = less crossfire = less people getting caught in it.

      • Veron

        Are you also going to give up GPS for good, since it’s used in many weapons systems?

  • Smokey_the_Bear

    If I was the boss, I would of told those whiny employee’s “if you don’t like it, leave.”. They are just dead weight, not realizing it’s our military that helps keep the world safe.

    • ale bro

      The School of The Americas will love this piece of kit

    • iThinkMyCatIsAFlea

      Don’t trust people in power. Especially those with guns.

      • Trenix

        With war, there is no right or wrong. But without war, there is no peace or freedom. Global love, care, peace, and freedom, is a fantasy. Multiculturalism is also a fantasy. Countries are finding this out the hard way. Enjoy peace and freedom while it lasts. We live in a time where people are giving up their freedoms to ensure more safety, bad times are coming.

      • care package

        The people in power don’t carry guns dummy. The ones who do their bidding do. Don’t you watch television?

  • TheGamingWolf

    What you’re seeing is advanced warfare

  • You know when you see the bad guys in video games and they always have glowing red eyes on their helmets? You always think, “Why are these guy’s eyes glowing?? Guess they’ve been looking at AR this whole time.

  • care package

    So in a few years real combat won’t just feel like a video game to the drone bombers, it will even to the ground soldiers.