Future Tech: Microsoft Brings HoloLens to the Battlefield for U.S. Army


Have you ever played a video game featuring guns and weaponry? Odds are high the answer is yes, so you should know what a heads-up display (HUD) is. From the reticle in Fortnite to health readouts in Halo, tactical information is displayed on the screen as you play. Ever since first-person shooters became popular several decades ago, these augmented reality HUD elements have become an accepted eventuality for real-life soldiers. It’s a technology that just makes sense, and Microsoft might have just the gadget to make it a widespread actuality.

Winning in a bidding war with Magic Leap, the U.S. Army recently awarded Microsoft with a $480 million contract. Their goal? To bring the HoloLens technology to the battlefield. HoloLens is Microsoft’s long-in-development AR headset. While initially pitched to the public (including a Minecraft demo at E3 2015), the device found its place as an enterprise level product. Since its debut, NASA used the headset on the International Space Station and on the ground. HoloLens is also in play internally at a host of other companies.

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In a statement, Microsoft states that their work in AR “extends our longstanding, trusted relationship with the Department of Defense.” This contract could lead to the military purchasing up to 100,000 headsets, more than the total of what’s been sold to date since the product first came to the market. Microsoft states that the headsets will “provide troops with more and better information to make decisions.”

Israel’s Army tested HoloLens technology last year. Photo: Stefanie Järkel/picture alliance (Getty Images)

A contingent of Microsoft employees has opposed the company’s dealings with the government. In an open letter published on Medium in October, the group condemned the use of their technology to wage war. They brought up similar movements within Amazon and Salesforce. In addition, they asked all other tech employees to consider the actions of their corporate masters. Finally, they note that Google moved away from this military bidding war after their employees rose up earlier this year.

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As well-intentioned as this letter is, it doesn’t seem to have made much impact to higher-ups at Microsoft. VR and AR tech will continue to move towards normalcy. They will be integrated into all aspects of society. As long as we live in the good ol’ U.S. of A, that includes the military. As we seem to remind ourselves every day, we live in those accursed “interesting times,” and that’s not changing anytime soon.