Microsoft already created AR combat goggles based on its HoloLens product, but it gave soldiers headaches, eye strain, and nausea. Instead of ordering more of the googles, Congress approved a $40 million budget to improve upon it instead.
The First Batch of Military AR Goggles
The first batch of military-adapted AR goggles was used for three 72-hour sessions wherein soldiers participated in simulated combat. Other than the headaches, eyestrain, and nausea, 80% of the soldiers already felt discomfort in the first three hours.
Congress approved the $40 million budget as an alternative to what the military originally requested, which was a $400 million budget to buy 6,900 pairs of goggles that still had flaws to be acknowledged and fixed.
The Army had already given $125 million to Microsoft as well, so the tech company can develop a better version of the AR goggles. According to Engadget, they also plan to buy 121,000 more devices over the next decade, which will cost them around $21.9 billion.
Soldiers of Tomorrow
According to Seargent Marc Krugh, a senior enlisted advisor working on the project, the goggles will help soldiers rehearse and train using augmented reality to simulate realistic scenarios in combat. This will prepare them for what they’ll be walking into in actual battle.
The technology is called Integrated Visual Augmentation System or IVAS. It is capable of allowing soldiers to see through smoke and around corners. It also uses holographic technology to project 3D terrain onto the field.
IVAS will be using the mixed-reality tech from HoloLens which includes thermal imagery, GPS technology, and night vision, which will all be instrumental for the improvement of the soldier’s situational awareness and provide critical information to carry out missions.
The tech company developed the AR goggles by collaborating with the military. Microsoft engineers were even sent to a military base in North Carolina for mini boot camps, which helped them understand what the soldiers will be experiencing in the field.
Microsoft learned about navigation on the ground, maneuvering in the dark, and communicating with the team. Seeing as Microsoft doesn’t usually create technology for military defense, this will help them understand the situation better, says deputy program manager Mark Stephens.
Soldiers also participated in tests held in Microsoft’s industrial design software labs in Redmond, Washington. They tested prototypes wherein the soldiers would provide feedback so the company would know what to improve on.
Microsoft managed to gather around 80,000 hours of soldier feedback by February 2021, which includes four rounds of testing within a six-month period, according to its website. Sgt. Krugh expressed that without the feedback, the development might’ve gone in the wrong direction.
Alex Kipman, a Microsoft Technical Fellow and the creator of the HoloLens, mentioned that the Army’s involvement made the project unique. He praised them for their growth mindset, and how they were the right people with the right attitude at the right time for the project.