Last year, Microsoft made waves when it won a contract with the U.S Army to build an Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) prototypes.
It wasn’t clear what the $480m (£375m at the time) contract would involve, beyond that the Microsoft would be making prototypes to “accelerate lethal defensive and offensive capabilities utilising innovative components.”
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CNBC got a look at the in-development IVAS system, built from a modified HoloLens 2. While they were unable to take photos or video of the technology, they did write about the experience of wearing the IVAS, reporting back that it projects a map not dissimilar to something seen in a modern first-person shooter.
“As I turned my head, a small arrow icon representing my location also turned.” CNBC writes in the article. “I could also see several other dots representing my other ‘squad members’ who were also wearing the headsets.”
At the moment, this needs to be done in advance.
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It can also allow commanders to receive images directly from the IVAS of someone underneath them. This was a feature in Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter, and in fact it’s almost creepy how many of the technological advances are recognisable from military themed shooters.
Talking of video game additions, IVAS has FLIR thermal imaging system built in, and can display an after action report (AAR) after training sessions showing metrics for the performance. Grim.
The U.S Army is hoping to have “thousands and thousands of soldiers across the force” using the system by 2022, and widespread development should be there by 2028. However, the U.S Army has walked away from prototypes before and there’s still some work to go before this is combat-ready.
There are valid concerns here: how well can the army provide blueprints and maps of new battlefields or buildings, and would the IVAS and its network be susceptible to enemy cyber attacks? Perhaps more importantly with modern tech, how much is it going to cost to outfit every soldier with one of these?
All of these questions are impossible to answer at this early stage, but CNBC’s level of access provides an interesting glimpse into AR. Even if that AR is being used to harm, something contentious with both Microsoft employees, who have been protesting the decision, and the general technology community.
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