Microsoft has bagged a new contract with the United States Army to develop customised augmented reality headsets for soldiers. The company is now slated to deliver up to 1.2 lakh AR headsets to the US Army over a period of 10 years, in a deal that can fetch the company up to $21.9 billion (~Rs 1.6 lakh crore). This is the third major such contract for Microsoft, after it signed a 2018 deal to deliver Integrated Visual Augmented System (IVAS) combat assistance headsets to the US Army, and the controversial Joint Enterprise Defence Infrastructure (JEDI) AI cloud computing contract that it signed in 2019 – despite foul cries by rival tech giant and cloud computing market leader, Amazon.
The new contract will see Microsoft build customised augmented reality headsets for the US Army, which can help them deliver a superior environment for soldiers to work in. Augmented reality headsets, on this note, are seen as the way forward for mixed reality applications that include fusing visuals from the real world with augmented, holographic elements such as key information, crosshairs of weapons and other connected features. The standard HoloLens by Microsoft, it is noted, uses a fusion of voice and gesture based inputs to execute commands in the AR visual space, and the custom Army headsets may work on the same eventual principle.
However, a number of Microsoft employees have voiced concerns about the old contract, calling upon the Microsoft hierarchy to cancel the existing IVAS contract with the US government. A section of Microsoft employees have claimed that it stands as unlawful practice to forcibly use a technology that they worked on as an effective weapon. In response, Microsoft chief Satya Nadella has stated that instead of being looked upon as killer machines, the HoloLens devices can effectively help soldiers improve their combat precision – thus improving their aim and reducing civilian casualties. Such an aspect can prove to be critical in areas of intense conflict.
The latest contract comes after the Redmond-based technology major won the JEDI AI cloud computing contract in 2019, from under the noses of its major Big Tech rival, Amazon. The latter cried foul in federal courts, and claimed that ex-US president Donald Trump had unfairly influenced the deal. However, the contract now stands fair in Microsoft’s court. This, coupled with the latest HoloLens contract, proves the ability for Microsoft to earn major revenue from their technology research projects that stand separate from their main lines of commercial business.