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Microsoft’s troubled combat goggles get redesign that wins over US army — for now

Bloomberg • 2 min read
Microsoft’s troubled combat goggles get redesign that wins over US army — for now
U.S. Army photo by Jason Amadi, PEO Soldier Public Affairs
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Microsoft Corp has “fundamentally altered” its combat goggles, changing them from a bulky helmet to a streamlined flip-up visor to improve the prospect that soldiers will embrace the US$22 billion project, according to the Army’s chief weapons buyer.

“The technology might have worked perfectly, but I’d still had worries before about the ‘form-factor’ and way soldiers wore them,” Assistant Army Secretary Doug Bush said in an interview.

The new version of the Integrated Visual Augmentation System headset is designed to project battlefield information, including the location of friendly troops, on a new visor with a wider, improved field of view. A small computer that’s part of the unit was moved from the side, where it was connected by a bulky cable, to the back of the headset.

Deployment of an earlier version was halted last year after some soldiers experienced nausea and dizziness wearing it in combat testing. The first of the new prototype “IVAS 1.2” visors were worn by two squads of soldiers in late August at Fort Drum, New York, to assess improvements in reliability, low-light performance and how well they fit without unwelcome side effects. 

Microsoft stands to collect as much as US$21.9 billion over a decade for as many as 121,000 of the devices, spares and support services if all options are exercised. The devices are based on Microsoft’s HoloLens “mixed reality” goggles.  

Microsoft “changed a lot of people — different leadership came in, different engineers,” Bush said. Those actions “seemed to make a big difference in their output,” he said. 

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“It’s much closer to something soldiers are going to want to use if it helps them do their mission, ” Bush said. The new system has a “much better night-vision camera” and its software is more stable, he said.

Bush authorized a new US$95 million contract Sept 5 for 280 additional systems for more testing and to assess Microsoft’s ability to produce large quantities. The program faces a make-or-break operational test in fiscal 2025 that could lead to deployment and major production funding.

Microsoft said in a statement that its ability to “deliver significant improvement is part of the transformational rapid prototyping process we’ve pioneered for the program.”

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