Congress denies military spends $400 million to buy HoloLens headset, but awards millions for new version that fixes problems that sickened military

Congress has rejected the military’s request to buy up to 6,900 headsets based on Microsoft’s HoloLens technology, according to a report. Apparently, the gun was asking for about 400 million dollars. Instead, it will take about a tenth to improve the system, as previous versions would have caused physical disabilities that affect the mission, such as headaches and nausea during testing.

HoloLens is an augmented reality headset launched in 2016 by Microsoft that simulates holograms. It was first revealed at the Windows 10: The Next Chapter conference on January 21, 2015.

The Microsoft HoloLens headset embeds a computer running Windows and has 3 processors. It is capable of simulating holographs without the need to connect to the Internet. HoloLens adapts in several areas and keeps pace with the evolution of the augmented reality market. It competes with Oculus and HTC Vive among others.

Microsoft originally signed a contract with the military to develop modified HoloLens combat goggles in late 2018. The deal, worth $480 million, eventually led to infighting within the military company, with some employees believing their work was being used to spread violence abroad. than helping people. The HoloLens division has also seen its share of turmoil at Microsoft, after AR glasses creator Alex Kipman left the company in June after allegations of sexual harassment surfaced.

In the end, pressure from within did not prevent the military agreement from being reached. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella defended the decision in early 2019, saying it was a principled decision made to help protect the freedoms we enjoy. According to one report, the military could spend as much as $21.9 billion over the next decade on the IVAS program, including maintenance costs.

The military said in October 2021 that it would have to delay the deployment of the device, however, pending further evaluation by the Pentagon.

The augmented reality glasses, a customized version of the HoloLens, provide the user with a heads-up display, meaning a hologram is superimposed over their environment, giving them more information about what they can already see. .

The order for 5,000 glasses was originally placed in March 2021, but was put on hold due to concerns about their performance. A final test of the glasses was not expected until October 2022, but Bush said at the time, “The Army remains confident that the program will be successful.”

An April 22 audit report from the Defense Department’s Office of the Inspector General put further pressure on the project by finding that the military had not defined a minimum viable product in terms of what soldiers would accept. Acquiring IVAS without gaining user acceptance could spend up to $21.88 billion in public funds to set up a system that soldiers may not want to use or may not use as intended, the report says.

IVAS struggles to convince the military

The 79-page report, obtained by Bloomberg, on the US military’s pilot testing of HoloLens has been designated as Controlled Unclassified Information and has not been made public.

But a summary, by Nickolas Guertin, director of test and evaluation operations at the Ministry of Defence, describes the tests leading to “mission-impacting physical disabilities”, in particular headaches, eyestrain and nausea. The summary shows that more than 80% of soldiers who experienced discomfort with Microsoft’s customized version of the headset experienced symptoms within three hours. Bloomberg did not say what percentage of HoloLens testers felt discomfort overall.

Acceptance of the technology remains low, according to a summary prepared for Army and Defense Department officials, with soldiers complaining that the helmets do not help their ability to carry out their mission.

One of the testers thinks the devices would have killed us. In words, the light emitted by IVAS, which give the location of their carrier “hundreds of meters”. Testers also found that soldiers’ field of vision, including peripheral vision, is limited when the headset is on, and that the bulk and weight of the device restricts soldiers’ movement.

Congress gets involved

It was those results that would have kept the budget for the new helmets, called by the military Integrated Visual Augmentation Systems, or IVAS, out of the government’s $1.75 trillion spending bill. Arma says it plans to fix them, however, with a 1.2 release that will include a new shape intended to address physical symptoms, as well as a low-profile display with distributed counterweights for an improved user interface. users and increased comfort. software upgrades.

In a statement released earlier this month, the military said it would place orders for the completed 1.2 IVAS helmets after qualification and operational testing. So far, nearly 1,000 soldiers have provided feedback based on 100,000 hours of testing with previous versions:

citation Sent by the US military

On December 20, 2022, the United States Army awarded an order to Microsoft Corporation to develop the Integrated Visual Augmentation System Variant 1.2.

This task order is the latest step in a process that began in March 2021, when the Army awarded Microsoft a firm-price manufacturing agreement with an Other Contracting Authority to produce IVAS. [ndlr. une Other Transaction Authority, ou OTA, est le terme couramment utilis pour dsigner l’autorit du ministre de la Dfense (DoD) pour raliser certains prototypes, projets de recherche et de production. Les autres autorits de transaction (OT) ont t cres pour donner au DoD la flexibilit ncessaire pour adopter et incorporer des pratiques commerciales qui refltent les normes et les meilleures pratiques de l’industrie commerciale dans ses instruments d’attribution]. Under that agreement, the Army planned to improve the system through an iterative process, and this task order will provide improvements based on completed test events.

IVAS will provide soldiers with a single device to fight, test and train by integrating next-generation situational awareness tools. To date, the Army has conducted over 30 Soldier test events and over 100 technical subtests, with over 1,000 Soldiers contributing nearly 100,000 hours of feedback from IVAS users. These tests validated the ongoing progress of the system by identifying areas requiring targeted improvements.

IVAS will begin the incremental campaign in September 2023. IVAS 1.0 provides basic combat capabilities and IVAS 1.1 has an improved low-light sensor to aid in maneuvering and positive target identification. In addition to IVAS 1.1 improvements, IVAS 1.2 will include a new form factor to address human systems integration, including physiological influences identified during testing, and a low-profile head-up display with distributed counterweight for the user interface and improved comfort. IVAS 1.2 will also include software improvements to increase reliability and reduce power demand.

Delivery orders for IVAS 1.2 production systems will be placed after qualification and operational testing.

Arma will continue to work with its IVAS industry partner, Microsoft, to execute the IVAS program in a fast and innovative way. The iterative development process driven by Soldier input for IVAS will result in a significant capability that will be fielded years ahead of traditional acquisition program timelines. The Army is fully committed to IVAS and the advanced capabilities it will provide soldiers to prevail on the battlefield.

According to Bloomberg, Microsoft has committed about $125 million to develop version 1.2, in addition to the $40 million recently approved by Congress.

Symptoms that are not IVAS specific, even if considered bad on the SSQ barometer

One reason soldiers may be wary of Microsoft devices is the potential for confusion and disorientation. A 2020 meta-analysis of virtual reality-induced sickness found that virtual reality participants had a relatively high mean Simulator Sickness Questionnaire (SSQ) score of 28.

The SSQ is a framework developed for military flight simulators that rates people based on symptoms (eg, fatigue, headache, eye strain) associated with weighted scores.

In general, higher scores on each scale indicate stronger perceptions of underlying disease symptoms and are therefore undesirable, explains a 2020 article on SSQ assessment. Based on a large sample of SSQ data collected from military pilots, it is suggested that total scores may be associated with negligible (<5), minimal (5 - 10), significant (10 - 15), and distress symptoms. (15 - 20). A simulator whose total scores are greater than 20 is considered "bad".

Some activities such as games produced higher SSQ scores (34) while others such as scenic content (17) were better tolerated, according to the meta-analysis. The exposure time of virtual reality also comes into play: a 2017 study of a virtual roller coaster environment found that nearly two-thirds of participants could not endure 14 minutes of exposure.

Augmented Reality (AR), or Mixed Reality as Microsoft calls it, has a different effect, as it passes a part of the real world, which reduces the likelihood of disorientation. However, a 2020 study, Psychometrics of Cybersickness in Augmented Reality, looked at the difference between a tablet and a HoloLens for providing tactical combat casualty care — one of the reasons the Department of Defense is interested in it. ‘AR/VR and found that Microsoft’s headset can also cause cybersickness.

Source: Bloomberg, US Army press release

And you?

What do you think about mixed reality during a military operation in the field? Practical or not?
Do the issues raised by the military surprise you?

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