U.S. Army approves order for thousands of Microsoft combat goggles

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Soldiers wearing a prototype of the U.S. Army’s Integrated Visual Augmentation System.

Soldiers wearing a prototype of the U.S. Army’s Integrated Visual Augmentation System at Fort Pickett, Va., in 2020. (Courtney Bacon/U.S. Army via Reuters)

LONDON — The U.S. Army has approved an order to buy thousands of HoloLens combat goggles made by Microsoft — years after employees of the tech giant demanded the company cancel its contract with the military.

Bloomberg reported on Thursday that Microsoft would begin to deliver some of the 5,000 Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) goggle units after “encouraging results from testing in the field.”

The order for 5,000 goggles was initially placed in March 2021 but had been put on hold over concerns about their performance. Army spokesman Jamal Beck said that Douglas Bush, assistant secretary for acquisition, has now “cleared the Army to begin accepting” the new technology.

The augmented reality goggles, a customized version of the HoloLens goggles, give the user a “heads-up display” — meaning that a hologram is placed over their environment, giving them more information about what they can already see.

The Army expects to spend around $21.9 billion on the goggles over the next 10 years. A final test on the goggles is not expected until October, but Bush said: “The Army remains confident that the program will succeed.”

Soldiers in the woods at Fort Pickett wearing IVAS prototypes. Soldiers in the woods at Fort Pickett wearing IVAS prototypes.

Soldiers in the woods at Fort Pickett wearing IVAS prototypes. (Courtney Bacon/U.S. Army via Reuters)

The HoloLens goggles are commercially available and go for $3,500 per set. The goggles are used in a number of industries, including health care, and are used by NASA.

Microsoft and the Army brokered the original deal in 2018 for $480 million. Months later in 2019, a group of Microsoft employees called on the company to cancel the contract, as the technology would be designed “to help people kill.” In a letter to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and President Brad Smith, workers said the company had failed to inform the engineers of “the intent of the software they are building.”

“We are alarmed that Microsoft is working to provide weapons technology to the U.S. Military, helping one country’s government ‘increase lethality’ using tools we built,” the workers wrote in the letter. “We did not sign up to develop weapons, and we demand a say in how our work is used.”

Smith replied in a blog post saying that the company believes in “the strong defense of the United States” and that it wants the people “who defend it to have access to the nation’s best technology.”

Microsoft did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Yahoo News.