Military Hololens: Microsoft expects further criticism
Microsoft’s Hololens AR headset is turning from the future of computing into a problem child. This is especially evident when it comes to the technically sophisticated military version of the headset.
Microsoft is to supply the US military with advanced AR glasses for a whole 22 billion US dollars within ten years. The prototype, called IVAS, is based on the conventional Hololens, but offers additional technical functions especially for the military, such as an AR targeting function or integrated night and heat vision. The device is also built into a rugged helmet.
Can Microsoft deliver on the military contract?
But the development of the AR device is apparently not going as planned. Repeatedly, there have been reports of delayed or poorly run tests due to technical issues. Most recently, in January 2022, the Pentagon said that IVAS still needed to be improved due to an insufficient field of view and a lack of wearing comfort.
The problems with the technology are said to be so severe that Microsoft employees see a risk that the U.S. military could abandon the extensively funded contract, reports Busines Insider, citing internal sources.
It sounds like the military version of Hololens will face the same difficulties as the civilian version. The hope of the AR industry was probably more that innovations would prevail in the advanced military environment that could be transferred to the general Hololens.
Progress on IVAS prototypes too slow
The website claims to have an internal Microsoft memo to the military team in which a Microsoft employee comments on upcoming tests with a new prototype. “We (Microsoft) are going into the event expecting negative feedback from the customer,” the email reads.
Reliability compared to previous prototypes has improved only minimally, so Microsoft expects continued negative sentiment among soldiers. Especially the low-light performance and the thermal imaging function will probably be criticized further.
The fact that the expectation on the part of the U.S. military is low anyway could possibly be a perk, according to the email, as the difference between expectation and performance is then not so great. The military glasses are in the final stages of testing before a possible field deployment next May. However, the technical problems could affect that plan.
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Kipman responds internally to leaks
While the technical problems with IVAS have been officially documented by the Pentagon, the situation with a possible civilian Hololens 3 is currently unclear.
Business Insider reported at the end of January that the development of Hololens 3 was probably in limbo and the team was at odds over whether to continue development. Among others, Hololens optics engineer Bernard Kress moved to Google, which is reportedly planning a new pair of AR glasses codenamed Iris.
Microsoft is said to have started a new XR hardware project with alternative technology in parallel with Samsung, but the Hololens team does not like it.
Hololens project leader Alex Kipman spoke out publicly on Twitter after the leaks: “You shouldn’t believe everything you read on the Internet,” he wrote. Kipman did not comment on the status of Hololens 3, but did not contradict the claims in the report. Microsoft denied rumors of a possible end to the Hololens project.
Microsoft has apparently not been able to identify the person responsible for the leaks so far. Otherwise, it cannot be explained that Business Insider now even has access to internal Microsoft Teams messages from Alex Kipman, in which he reacts to the leaks.
“So depressed, so demoralized, so broken,” Kipman writes, reporting to his team that he had been in contact with people in the finance and marketing departments after the leaks about whether Hololens information needed to be kept more under wraps. Regarding the IVAS leaks, he says individuals from the National Intelligence and Security team contacted him with the same request.
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