IVAS 1.2 will begin testing on July 31st to showcase usability improvements for US Army soldiers
This month, Microsoft will deploy an upgraded version of its dormant HoloLens 2 headset for US Army soldiers.
The firm is deep within a rocky testing period as part of a long-standing military contract that facilitates soldiers with assistive reality tools for improving combat awareness.
The success of the IVAS testing period could prove vital to the future of HoloLens, the future of which appears to hang in the balance following a tough 2022.
Microsoft’s US Army contract sees the firm deploy 20 custom “Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS)” HoloLens 2 MR headsets for field testing.
However, Microsoft is facing pressure from the US Congress stemming from device complaints during testing.
In January, US Congress blocked a contract between Microsoft and the US Army which would have facilitated the distribution of roughly 121,000 IVAS devices.
US Congress blocked this move due to negative feedback during IVAS testing programmes, forcing Microsoft to complete a massively reduced contract.
The current contract sees Microsoft distribute only 20 IVAS headsets to showcase usability improvements and secure further scalability and funding.
Notably, the HoloLens 2 update comes following Microsoft’s Inspire event, which did not mention the HoloLens 2 at all.
Moreover, this week, Microsoft did not mention the HoloLens 2 in its monthly earnings call.
Microsoft IVAS: What’s New?
According to a report from Bloomberg, Microsoft is distributing version 1.2 of its IVAS device by July 31.
The device leverages MR visualizations to assist soldiers on the field by displaying tactical heads-up displays (HUDs), thermal vision, night vision, and passive targeting.
The US Army is working closely with Microsoft as part of the IVAS testing programme, which leverages feedback from trainees to improve the headset. Microsoft listened to feedback from soldiers and Congress, leading to the optimization of design features to increase usability.
The IVAS version 1.2 upgrade will accommodate common complaints from US Army users, including device visibility at night, weight, and form factor. Moreover, reports indicate that soldiers are complaining that the headset causes nausea, headaches, and eye strain.
According to a Microsoft Spokesperson, the firm works closely with the US Army to develop an enhanced IVAS headset which “improves on earlier variants with a slimmer, lighter and more balanced form factor to improve soldier comfort and performance greatly.”
Moreover, despite pressure from US Congress, the spokesperson told Techradar Pro:
Our expected delivery of the initial set of IVAS 1.2 devices later this month is three months ahead of schedule and part of our commitment to move with speed to deliver on this critical program.
However, if device problems persist following the July 31 delivery of IVAS version 1.2, the Army and Congress may drop testing of the device – perhaps spelling doom for the HoloLens’ future.
A Tough Road for IVAS
The news follows a storied history between the US Army and Microsoft, which saw soldiers first receive IVAS 1.0 headsets in October 2021.
Following the IVAS debut, the testing programme and the wider HoloLens team faced significant roadblocks.
With its reduced military contract, Microsoft aims to secure trust in Congress to continue IVAS development into 2025.
Before contract blockades, Microsoft sought to secure a multi-year $22 billion deal.
Instead, the US Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee cut around $350 million from the Army’s $400 million procurement request in August 2022, leading to the version 1.2 testing period – determining the future of the IVAS contract.
The future is unclear, and a lot is riding on this contract for Microsoft; the US Army described the IVAS headset as “not combat ready”last year, and it will take a significant improvement to change this opinion.
HoloLens 2 Faces an Uncertain Future
On the other hand, securing the multi-year deal could greatly benefit the broader HoloLens 2 team, which has faced equal roadblocks.
Despite previous success across enterprise clients in years past. More recently, the HoloLens 2 device has been lying dormant.
In 2022, the HoloLens 2 faced various roadblocks that slowed the development of the product, as other firms such as Meta and Apple ramped up efforts towards next-level MR devices.
Last year, Microsoft’s ex-head of HoloLens and MR Alex Kipman, resigned from his position following numerous reports of unethical behaviour. Moreover, many core HoloLens 2 design members jumped ship to Meta at this time, limiting the team further.
Microsoft’s immersive team faced further reorganizations when it closed its Altspace VR Metaverse platform on March 10, 2023, following eight years of operation.
Following the roadblocks, Microsoft redistributed many XR design team members to other related in-house projects.
For example, Kipman’s resignation led to a shift in HoloLens 2 management and development responsibilities. With Microsoft moving team members to its Windows & Devices division.
Microsoft also transferred many of its remaining Altspace VR staff and resources towards Mesh – an immersive collaboration infrastructure – present relocated workers to leverage a vast opportunity for XR development, “including creators, partners and customers.”
Will Microsoft Continue XR Ambitions?
Despite a tough 2022, and a quiet 2023, XR champions at Microsoft appear optimistic about the HoloLens 2.
Microsoft recently debuted Windows Holographic version 23H1, which improves XR device management and control.
Moreover, in June and reacting to the debut 23H1, Robin Seiler, Company Vice President and COO of Windows and Devices Organisation, exclaimed Microsoft’s intent to ensure “commitment to [the] HoloLens 2 and the broader Mixed Reality program.” Notably, Seiler represents the same Microsoft division that hosts old HoloLens design team members.
In the same month, Lola Bryan, Principal Program Manager at Microsoft, also reinforced Microsoft’s commitment to the HoloLens 2, saying the firm’s 23H1 update “reinforce[s] our commitment” to the HoloLens platform.
Bryan also added:
By making this investment, we have optimized our engineering infrastructure and increased engineering velocity. For end-users, we have increased reliability and predictability of updating apps, as well as the OS.
Moreover, despite a lack of HoloLens presence, at Inspire 2023, Microsoft addressed XR technology integration across its product portfolio.
Although brief, Microsoft is including industrial Metaverse considerations as part of its AI Cloud Partner Program.
Microsoft aims to scale and empower end-users with data and AI solutions, with part of its growth plan to boost immersive enterprise solutions.
The firm’s industrial Metaverse plans are still foundational; Microsoft plans to fully debut its initiative in 2024 via an early access program.
Microsoft remained dedicated to AI via its CoPilot offering in its most recent earnings call. While AI may have taken over Microsoft’s 2023, it appears that via its Cloud Partner Program, Microsoft may leverage AI and XR together – perhaps leading to a new XR device.
But how does this tie into IVAS? If the July 31st testing period succeeds, Microsoft will gain more capital and resources to improve the military-facing device. These improvements could translate into a broader HoloLens iteration, perhaps ready for the 2024 Metaverse roadmap.
However, if blockades and complaints persist, it may prove pivotal to the device’s future.
Who Will Lead a Spatial Computing Future
With Microsoft working away in the background, a broad spectrum of competing XR device vendors are developing products to lead the way for enterprise and consumer immersive device adoption.
At WWDC 2023, Apple stole headlines with its Apple Vision Pro announcement. The expensive device is looking to redefine XR with a fresh spatial computing vision, with Apple avoiding terms like VR and the Metaverse to differentiate itself from the market.
Moreover, the firm targeted its Vision Pro device as a productivity tool – ready for enterprise – which replaces a laptop with a pair of smart glasses that allow users to interact with virtual monitors.
The device is due in 2024. However, developers can get their hands on developer devices, and SDKs create content for the device before its launch. Apple is also working with Unity to promote an easy-to-use developer ecosystem to drive system-selling content.
On the other hand, Xreal is developing a pair of smart glasses promoting XR productivity use cases. The firm’s product also leverages virtual monitors to replace laptops, shipping 200,000 units as of June.
Moreover, Meta is still in the immersive space race. Despite a change in opinion concerning its Metaverse vision and money-losing Reality Labs division, the firm is moving forward with its Meta Quest 3 device, an upcoming MR headset.
The firm will reveal more at Meta Connect 2023. However, the device will focus on gaming and consumer use cases, while Meta remains focused on enterprise immersive integration with its Pro device.
The Quest 3 will introduce MR at a far lower price than the Pro, with the firm hoping to return in the consumers’ favour with its upcoming device.