The US Army has agreed to pay Microsoft almost half a billion dollars to supply upwards of 100,000 prototype augmented reality headsets for use in training scenarios and actual combat, Bloomberg reports. According to documents for the Army's Integrated Visual Augmentation System project, the goal is to "manufacture a single platform that soldiers can use to fight, rehearse, and train. This new work extends our longstanding, trusted relationship with the Department of Defense to this new area", Microsoft told Bloomberg.
Before the contract was finalized, several Microsoft employees wrote an open letter urging the company not to bid on the military's "Project JEDI".
The United States Army is preparing to purchase up to 100,000 HoloLens units from Microsoft, according to a new report. It wanted a device that could allow for night vision, the ability to measure breathing and other vital signs, offer hearing protection and monitor for signs of concussion.
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HoloLens is an augmented reality headset that overlays virtual objects and information over the real world. The Department of Defense seeks devices that will "increase lethality by enhancing the ability to detect, decide and engage before the enemy". Microsoft's HoloLens is one of the few, but companies like Google, Apple and Samsung are rumored to be working on their own. The company could potentially be making specialized versions of the HoloLens for the U.S. Army. HoloLens is aimed more at developers and enterprise users rather than consumers.
Military and policing contracts can be thorny for tech companies to deal with. Employees recently raised a fuss with Redmond over its deal with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) even though the company had only agreed to supply the agency with email, calendar, and messaging services. It said the winning bidder would be expected to deliver 2,500 headsets within two years, and exhibit the capacity for full-scale production. Last month, its President and Chief Legal Officer, Brad Smith, authored a on the company website stating that Microsoft will continue to work with the USA military and that the company "has their back".