Once demoed as augmented reality hardware for use with video games like Minecraft, Microsoft is moving forward with a $22 billion Hololens deal with the U.S. Army that will put the militarized version of the headset into production.
While Hololens wasn't made exclusively for video game applications, when introduced in 2015 it was marketed as productivity and entertainment hardware, with its first concept demo showing holographic calendars in the kitchen, a virtual screen for Netflix, and a holographic Minecraft landscape that would be superimposed across one's living room.
That's a stark contrast to its application in war. A Reuters report said a deal that would have Microsoft selling Hololens headsets to the U.S. Army along with Azure cloud support may be worth $21.88 billion over a decade.
Microsoft has been working on Hololens' battlefield application for a few years now. Microsoft made a $480 million deal with the U.S. Army in November 2018 to supply Hololens prototypes for military programs.
A few months later, a group called Microsoft Workers 4 Good posted an open letter to CEO Satya Nadella and president and chief legal officer Brad Smith, urging for the contract to be cancelled and for stricter ethical guidelines to be put into place.
The group again opposed this latest development of the partnership in a tweet this week:
We would much rather Microsoft used today to stand up for Transgender people everywhere on Transgender Day of Visibility, instead of building weapons of war. https://t.co/kHZycRhpvM— Microsoft Workers 4 Good (@MsWorkers4) April 1, 2021
Alex Kipman, Microsoft technical fellow and the lead developer of Hololens (and who championed development of Microsoft Kinect) said in a blog post, "The IVAS [Integrated Visual Augmentation System] headset, based on HoloLens and augmented by Microsoft Azure cloud services, delivers a platform that will keep soldiers safer and make them more effective. The program delivers enhanced situational awareness, enabling information sharing and decision-making in a variety of scenarios."
"We appreciate the partnership with the U.S. Army, and are thankful for their continued trust in transitioning IVAS from rapid prototyping to rapid fielding," he said.