Mixed reality is coming to the battlefield. Microsoft has signed a $479 million contract with the U.S. Army for as many as 100,000 of its HoloLens headsets. According to a government description given to Bloomberg, which first reported the story, the mixed-reality glasses will be used to “increase lethality by enhancing the ability to detect, decide and engage before the enemy.”
The device has lighter uses, like re-creating games from Star Trek, but has seen a strong interest from militaries around the globe. The Israeli military began using HoloLenses for battlefield training in 2016, and that same year the Ukrainian military began using the technology to help soldiers see through tanks.
Neither of these purchases compare to the U.S. Army’s. The initial Israeli purchase was of two HoloLenses. The Army expects Microsoft to deliver 2,500 headsets within two years. The deal cements the U.S. military as one of the main purchasers of augmented- and mixed-reality devices on globe.
Officially classified as a mixed-reality device, the HoloLens has the ability to anchor virtual objects to the real world. If the wearer is staring at a chair in real life, for example, a virtual character could be made to appear to be sitting in that chair. The concept has a military history—the first immersive mixed-reality systems came from the U.S. Air Force’s Armstrong Laboratories in 1992.
The deal is just the latest in a series of flashpoints between tech giants and the armed forces. In October, an anonymous open letter claiming to be from Microsoft employees protested the company’s interest in developing military Cloud-computing technology, saying that the company was betraying its own principles “in exchange for short-term profit.”
In a response, Microsoft president Brad Little wrote a blog post stating that “we believe in the strong defense of the United States and we want the people who defend it to have access to the nation’s best technology, including from Microsoft.”
Today Microsoft is taking a similar tone. Speaking to Popular Mechanics, a spokesperson for the company said in an emailed statement that, “Augmented-reality technology will provide troops with more and better information to make decisions. This new work extends our longstanding, trusted relationship with the Department of Defense to this new area.”
The Army did not return requests for comment.