Microsoft is supposedly gearing up to field test its HoloLens-based military AR headset, however a new report contends the company is bracing for impact, as it’s expecting negative feedback from soldiers.

Last year, Microsoft announced it had won a United States Army defense contract worth up to $22 billion which would see the development of a so-called Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS), a tactical AR headset for soldiers based on HoloLens 2 technology.

A Business Insider report, citing a leaked internal email, maintains that Microsoft has low expectations for its latest version of IVAS, which is set to begin real-world operational tests with the US Army in May.

Prototype testing (2019), Image courtesy CNBC

Microsoft’s IVAS contract has allegedly seen delays and quality problems. A separate Business Insider report from last month alleges its enterprise-focused HoloLens 3 may also be at risk due to internal issues within Microsoft’s mixed reality division surrounding whether HoloLens should serve consumers or continue courting enterprise companies.

A purported Microsoft Teams message from Mixed Reality division head and HoloLens co-inventor Alex Kipman paints a pretty depressing story:

“So depressed, so demoralized, so broken. I’m sure by now you’ve read or heard about one or two of the Business Insider articles that were published on us. On our private roadmap. On our customers’ confidential data … as a consequence of these articles and these individuals shameful actions, someone from finance already came to me to ask if we should lock down and not share so openly our numbers. Someone from marketing already came to me and asked if we should lock down and not share so openly our roadmap. Someone for from our National Intelligence and Security Team already came to me to ask if we should lock down our IVAS work.”

Kipman rebuffed the previously report of unrest, saying “don’t believe what you read on the internet.”

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It’s said that soldiers may take issue with the device’s low light and thermal imaging performance, and that user impressions will “continue to be negative as reliability improvements have been minimal from previous events.”

That $22 billion is an upper target and not the full amount granted to Microsoft at present. And it seems confidence in the project isn’t very high at the moment, as US Congress has allegedly frozen $394 million from the Army’s IVAS budget, which Business Insider notes leaves only $405 million—around $200 million shy of what Microsoft supposedly needs to recover development costs.

Additionally, it’s also said some close to the project fear the Army will simply walk away from the contract.

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  • kontis

    Soldiers have experience with HMDs like night goggles that have better FOV than Hololens.

    If tech isn’t ready even for niche uses cases then why even sell it?

    • Yes, the GPNVG-18 has about 20 degrees wider horizontal FOV, but is awkward in weight distribution, has poor contrast, no daytime capability, no thermal imaging, no AR overlaying, no built-in communications or computing, and costs twice as much as IVAS per unit. The latest BI article was quite strange in that it was bringing up issues like the NV, TI, and also the nighttime capability of the IVAS VRD through waveguides imaging systems that have never been prior issues in any of the field tests. In contrast, the F-35 helmet costs over 12X as much as IVAS per soldier, has a lower FOV, and basically does nothing without the aircraft.

  • unitis

    IWAS?

  • Raphael

    Microsoft can’t reliably mod a consumer AR design with a range of limitations into a mil.spec product for the battlefield.

  • Arturs Gerskovics

    Somehow i have negative feeling about the whole M$ gang

  • Lhorkan

    Let’s hope the improvements they made for the army model, such as the far greater FOV and at least some kind of low light performance, will now be made available for enterprise use instead.

  • That’s because right now AR is largely crap, and once you start putting it into situations where it actually has to work properly and be genuinely useful and practical, it totally fails and isn’t fit for purpose. As a casual gimmick, fine, but war isn’t just for messing about with technology that isn’t ready for prime time. I’m sure they’ll stiff faff around with it and even get some use out of it, but I don’t think we’re in the age of AR quite yet, and certainly not that the kind of level you’d want soldiers to be using in order to not get their heads blown off.

    • JrSpaceMan

      It may take a decade to perfect but this will become part of the connected battlefield, whether the US is the first to deploy or not. The advantages in information dissemination and collection with an active, “heads up display” has been something the US Army, Navy and Marines have been looking for since the 1980’s. The ability to see and show in terms of a soldier’s 1-1 perspective would allow for a significant advantage in any situation. Whether you’re fixing a computer, car, making an espresso or in a conflict zone. MS didn’t invent the idea, they simply created the proof of concept.

  • Lucidfeuer

    Oh no, a false product is not usable, big surprise!

  • David Glenn

    I used to work in the Soldier Battle Lab at Ft Benning and the idea of negative soldier feedback is not a new one and not unexpected from my POV. This has been the case ever since the Future Combat Soldier got started and will no doubt carry over to the present. The idea that a soldier having to contend with any extra hardware is a natural fear for a soldier! Adding Gear in fact is almost considered a punishment if it any burden at all and any distraction can be the curse of death.

    But that is just one factor to deal with! What if it is useful? Are the possibilities of system failure do to slogging this thing around or dealing with the shortcomings of the unit deny the soldier an advantage that he/she would have gotten using other means?

    It’s a subject matter that any defense engineer has to face and address, or that item will find itself discarded in the heat of battle. If Microsoft can’t hack it and fear any criticism from non technical personnel, there in for some problems. I learned that being one to one with soldiers. It was most likely the most stressful part of my job at the time!
    Your trying to reassure them and train them, they are feeding back with a ton of excuses and much of them can be real in scope or based on fear, but have to be addressed! Don’t do that and it’s a failed project on the scrap shelf!

    • Tabp

      If it were up to me I’d address them by having laser tag battles between a headset team and a no headset team, but knowing Microsoft they’d probably have some bugs and lose.

  • Jerald Doerr

    Can’t wait to put a IR target on my peanut so everyone can play whack a mole with me! PoP!

  • Till Eulenspiegel

    LOL it’s Microsoft, what do you expect? A blue screen of death floating in front of you right in the battlefield.

    Any company that refused to openly share their numbers are just hiding their failure.

    • You are aware of the number of MS Windows licenses are used in DOD versus Linux and MacOS right?

  • JrSpaceMan

    This kind of thing can take a decade to perfect, especially for use on an open battlefield where the goal is increased situational awareness in both near and far field. Goal one has to be the ability to simply turn it off and get it out of your face without screwing with the operators balance and ability to aim or communicate.

  • Smokey_the_Bear

    Hopefully the Army doesn’t cancel it, and MS keeps tweaking it, to give our soldiers the best real time data possible.
    A few years and they will be wearing Hololens3 gear, and be loving the improvements. Ya gotta start somewhere, tech doesn’t mature naturally.

  • pasfish111

    I was shocked by the small FOV of Hololens 1&2 in 2016 and 2019. 10 second testing, and I was sure that this thing needs min. 10 years more development or/and a complete new screen technology ;-)