Imagine how productive and effective you would be if you had Iron Man’s head-up display that enhances your situational awareness, information sharing, and decision-making. Think Google Glass, but better and less consumer-oriented. A few days ago, Microsoft received a contract to deliver thousands of head-up display Minecraft Goggles to the US Army.
In a story reported by Kotaku, the internet’s gaming review and news website, Microsoft sells three Bethseda worth of headsets based on its HoloLens technology. Microsoft first introduced their augmented reality goggles in 2015, with an impressive Minecraft demo, and now agrees to sell up to $22 billion worth of AR headsets to the US military. Naturally, those won’t be the same googles from the 2015 Minecraft demo, which were upgraded to HoloLens 2 in 2019, but a part of the same family of products.
The military-grade AR technology that originally played Minecraft will provide troops in the field with enhanced situational awareness and better and faster information processing, which results in better decision making, potentially saving thousands of lives. The technology is based on Microsoft’s Integrated Visual Augmentation System enhanced by Microsoft Azure to create a platform that will increase soldier’s safety and effectiveness. But if you think that Microsoft finally managed to get their hands into government and military funding, well, think again.
These Minecraft goggles are not the first time Microsoft has done business with the military; the newly announced contract is actually a build-up on a previous two-year $480 million contract to equip the US Army with the AR tech. Microsoft worked closely with the US Army for over two years, pioneering the Soldier Centered Design, which will enable rapid prototyping and production of military-grade technology for the US Army. At the time, the contract specified that the deal could potentially lead to follow-up orders of more than 100,000 AR headsets.
The new contract with the US Army for these Minecraft goggles, which is as much as three Bethesdas, marks the transition from prototyping the equipment to production and deployment. According to the new agreement, Microsoft will be fulfilling an order of 120,000 AR headsets based on the HoloLens and IVAS systems. This is a significant scaleup for the AR technology, which previously witnessed large-scale rollouts and recall. Remember Kinect or the messed-up launch of Oculus Rift?
The military and government contractor budget will allow Minecraft‘s Microsoft to tackle the AR base technology problems, like bulky hardware and high production costs. It can scale down and translate further into consumer and enterprise-level markets in the future, moving us away from the bulky gaming headsets.
As we mentioned before, the HoloLens technology was first announced and introduced in 2015, tracing its origins back to Microsoft’s Kinect device and a Minecraft demo. Despite never reaching the mass-consumer market, the technology evolved into HoloLens 2, a pair of mixed reality smart glasses with better computing capabilities, improved hologram stability, and improved hardware-accelerated eye and hand tracking. HoloLens 2 emulator was also made available to developers, allowing them to create applications for HoloLens 2 and its successors once it releases into the consumer market.