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Microsoft Corp. is going to supply prototypes of augmented reality systems to the US Army for both training purposes and combat missions. The corporation has won a $480 million contract that will include over 100,000 headsets designed to “increase lethality by enhancing the ability to detect, decide and engage before the enemy”, according to a government description.   

According to a Microsoft spokesman, “augmented reality technology will provide troops with more and better information to make decisions. This new work extends our longstanding, trusted relationship with the Department of Defense to this new area”.

The HoloLens augmented reality headset was already used in joined training exercises between the U.S. Army and the Israeli military, though it was never used in live combat. Plans to do so would mark a significant step forward. This according to   

The U.S. Army’s augmented reality program, called the Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS), is the buyer of the 100,000 HoloLens headsets. Despite the fact that HoloLens is a leading consumer-grade headset, selling about 50,000 devices recently according to the European Patent Office, the consumer market is still relatively small.      

The contract makes the Army Microsoft’s biggest HoloLens consumer. the Army expects that MIcrosoft will provide it with a product different in some respects from the consumer grade device. In the bidding for the contract, the Army indicated it wanted to enhance the headset with night vision, thermal sensing, vital signs measurement,  concussions monitoring and hearing protection. A part of the contract included the delivery of 2,500 headsets by the winning bidder within a period of two years, to prove the capacity for full-scale production.

The contract was designed to encourage the Army to do business with companies that are not traditionally defense contractors. This comes on the backdrop of a tense cooperation between the technology industry and U.S. military and law enforcement, with major corporations’ employees pushing back against government contracts.   

Despite employee declared resistance, Microsoft’s President and Chief Legal Officer, Brad Smith. said the company would continue to sell software to the U.S. military.    

“Artificial intelligence, augmented reality and other technologies are raising new and profoundly important issues, including the ability of weapons to act autonomously. As we have discussed these issues with governments, we’ve appreciated that no military in the world wants to wake up to discover that machines have started a war,” he wrote. “But we can’t expect these new developments to be addressed wisely if the people in the tech sector who know the most about technology withdraw from the conversation.”