Congress blocks funding request for Microsoft headsets after testing issues: report

Congress has reportedly rejected the US military’s request for $400 million to purchase additional Microsoft mixed reality headsets, instead realigning funding to develop new models that will fix problems with current devices.

The military is receiving about a tenth of that sum to improve the system after concerns were raised over field testing of the glasses, which are based on Microsoft’s HoloLens technology, Bloomberg reported.

Tests using the devices revealed “mission-affecting physical disabilities” including headaches, eyestrain and nausea, the outlet reported, citing a summary of an exercise from the Pentagon’s testing office.

The $400 million request was included in the government’s $1.75 trillion funding bill, according to Bloomberg.

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Soldiers wear a prototype of the U.S. Army's Integrated Visual Augmentation System and wield a Squad immersive virtual trainer during a training environment test at its Third Soldier Point of Contact at Fort Pickett, Va. on October 21, 2020.

Soldiers wear a prototype of the U.S. Army’s Integrated Visual Augmentation System and wield a Squad immersive virtual trainer during a training environment test at its Third Soldier Point of Contact at Fort Pickett, Va. on October 21, 2020.
(Courtney Bacon/US Army via REUTERS)

In a Jan. 5 statement, the military said it had awarded an order to Microsoft to develop the 1.2 variant of the helmets, or Integrated Visual Augmentation Systems.

The task order, he said, would provide improvements based on completed test events.

“The IVAS will provide soldiers with a single device to fight, rehearse and train by integrating next-generation situational awareness tools,” the military said. “To date, the Army has conducted over 30 soldier testing events and over 100 technical subtests, with over 1,000 soldiers contributing nearly 100,000 hours of IVAS user feedback. These tests have validated continuous progress of the system while identifying areas requiring targeted improvements.”

The updated version will include a new form factor to address human systems integration, including physiological impacts identified during testing, as well as software enhancements for increased reliability and reduced power demands.

Soldiers carry a prototype of the U.S. Army's Integrated Visual Augmentation System during a Soldier Touchpoint 3 Squad Reconnaissance Mission Testing training event at Fort Pickett, Va., Oct. 21, 2020.

Soldiers carry a prototype of the U.S. Army’s Integrated Visual Augmentation System during a Soldier Touchpoint 3 Squad Reconnaissance Mission Testing training event at Fort Pickett, Va., Oct. 21, 2020.
(Courtney Bacon/US Army via REUTERS)

Delivery orders for IVAS 1.2 production systems will be placed after qualification and operational testing.

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According to Bloomberg, the military gave Microsoft about $125 million to develop the 1.2 variant, in addition to the tens of millions approved by Congress.

Microsoft Corporation booth signage is on display at CES 2023 at the Las Vegas Convention Center on January 6, 2023 in Las Vegas.

Microsoft Corporation booth signage is on display at CES 2023 at the Las Vegas Convention Center on January 6, 2023 in Las Vegas.
(David Becker/Getty Images)

Microsoft said in a post that the headsets were part of a larger effort to modernize US military operations.

In 2018, Microsoft won a $480 million contract from the military to develop a mixed reality headset to “help soldiers train, rehearse, and fight,” with IVAS being developed as part of an arrangement known as Alternate Transaction Authority.

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“The arrangement allowed IVAS to be developed in less than three years, much faster than a traditional project of this type,” he said.

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