(Jan 12): Microsoft Corp won’t be getting more orders for its combat goggles anytime soon after Congress rejected the US Army’s request for US$400 million to buy as many as 6,900 of them this fiscal year.
The rejection of the request, in the US$1.75 trillion government funding bill, reflects concern over field tests of the goggles, which are adapted from Microsoft’s HoloLens headsets. The tests disclosed “mission-affecting physical impairments” including headaches, eyestrain and nausea.
Instead, lawmakers approved the transfer of US$40 million of those procurement funds to develop a new model of the goggles, Army spokesman David Patterson said in an email.
Over a decade, the Army projects spending as much as US$21.9 billion for as many as 121,000 devices, spares and support services if all options are exercised. It has already ordered the first 5,000 goggles, which will be used for training as the improved model is developed.
Late last month, the Army awarded a US$125 million “task order” for the new model, labeled version 1.2. That money came from the the previous year’s appropriations.
“This task order will provide improvements based on completed test events” to address “physiological impacts identified during testing, and a lower profile Heads-Up Display with distributed counterweight for improved user interface and comfort,” the service said in a statement. The 1.2 version will also include software improvements for better reliability and reduced power demand.
A Microsoft spokesman declined to comment on the congressional actions.
The new version is driven by test results over three weeks ending June 18, when 70 Army infantry soldiers wore the devices during three 72-hours scenarios involving movement toward an enemy, an attack and a defensive mission.
The results were sobering: US soldiers suffered headaches, eyestrain and nausea, according to a summary of the exercise compiled by the Pentagon’s testing office.
More than 80% of those who experienced discomfort had symptoms after less than three hours using the goggles. The system also is still experiencing too many failures of essential functions, according to the test office.