Situational awareness in war can be an incredibly difficult task; even when combatants aren't shooting at you. Moreover, managing GPS, radios, and target acquisition on top of situational awareness can be problematic as well. To assist with this, Microsoft
has developed the Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS), which can help boots on ground be more effective and safer; but this has raised some concerns from people, including Microsoft's employees.
Since 2019, Microsoft has been testing IVAS kits
with service members to figure out how to make a solid military product. The Capability Set 2 (CS2), which was tested in October 2019, includes two low-light cameras, thermal sensor, tactical radio, Tactical Assault Kit software, maps, rapid target acquisition, commercial GPS receiver, and conformal battery all on board a Microsoft commercial HoloLens 2
. It was effectively an all-in-one solution for communications, navigation, and situational awareness, reducing the number of systems an operator needed. The CS3 and CS4 variants bring minor upgrades by directly integrating the hardware and ruggedizing the hardware overall.
The service members who were able to test these out generally gave favorable responses, citing "person of interest identification, text translation, and squad reconnaissance capabilities." After all the testing and feedback, Microsoft is now ready to move to production with the IVAS CS4
, with the Army expecting 1,600 systems for an initial operational test. The contract is valued at up to $21.9 billion over the next decade, with over 120,000 HoloLens-based headsets going into service.
"The IVAS headset, based on HoloLens and augmented by Microsoft Azure cloud services, delivers a platform that will keep Soldiers safer and make them more effective," said Alex Lipman, Microsoft Technical Fellow. "The program delivers enhanced situational awareness, enabling information sharing and decision-making in a variety of scenarios. Microsoft has worked closely with the U.S. Army over the past two years, and together we pioneered Soldier Centered Design to enable rapid prototyping for a product to provide Soldiers with the tools and capabilities necessary to achieve their mission."
Though Microsoft may be ready to move forward with its contract with the Department of Defense, some employees are not, however. An account on Twitter called Microsoft Workers 4 Good tweeted an open letter to Brad Smith and Satya Nadella, asking for the IVAS contract's cancellation. The letter explains that the employees "refuse to create technology for warfare and oppression."
Furthermore, they are "alarmed that Microsoft is working to provide weapons technology to the U.S. Military, helping one country's government 'increase lethality' using tools [the team] built." If the letter had to be summed up, a singular line explains, "Intent to harm is not an acceptable use of our technology."
There are also two sides to the coin, such as increasing lethality yet limiting unnecessary casualties given enhanced person of interest identification. While war is a necessary evil it seems, improving outcomes for both sides using technology seems to a superior alternative to having no changes at all. Either way, let us know what you think of this interesting application of technology in the comments below.