Ah, Microsoft’s HoloLens, the device that promised to revolutionize both the battlefield and office, is back in the spotlight. But this time, it’s not for the reasons you might think. The U.S. Army is giving the beleaguered Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) another shot with version 1.2, and soldiers at Fort Drum, New York, are the lucky guinea pigs.

A Second Chance for IVAS

The Army’s new do-it-all heads-up display device is undergoing a series of fit and comfort tests, weapons compatibility checks, and lowlight sensor evaluations. Lt. Col. Denny Dresch, the IVAS product manager, says that if all goes well, production could begin by 2025 for the $22 billion program. Yes, you read that right, $22 billion. But hey, who’s counting?

The Road So Far

It’s worth noting that the IVAS program has had its share of hiccups. Early versions of the device were plagued with issues ranging from field-of-view distortion to moisture problems and even soldier nausea. A Department of Defense Inspector General’s report in 2022 raised concerns that the Army might be wasting funds on a device that soldiers “may not want to use or use as intended.”

In tests of the earlier version “In the ops demo, the infantry company was more successful accomplishing their operational missions with their current equipment than with IVAS 1.0,” the Pentagon’s chief weapons tester wrote in the fiscal 2022 annual report. “Soldiers hit fewer targets and engaged targets more slowly with IVAS 1.0 than with their current equipment on the buddy team [live] fire range. IVAS 1.0 did not demonstrate improvements in low-light sensors, HUD display, [Family of Weapon Sights-Individual] integration and field of vision.”

Congressional leaders also had their reservations, holding back procurement funding until operational testing of version 1.2 could verify progress. But according to PEO Soldier spokesman David Patterson, many of the problems listed in the report had already been resolved or were in the process of being fixed.

What’s New in 1.2?

Microsoft delivered 20 prototypes of the 1.2 version to the Army in late July, a fiscal quarter earlier than scheduled. This new version is more ruggedized, has a flip-up style helmet mount, and comes with an improved lowlight sensor. It also addresses the warping of the display that caused previous delays.

New features in AVAS 1.2 include:

  • Flip-Up Head-Up Display (HUD): The new prototype features a flip-up HUD, allowing soldiers to easily take a break.
  • Updated, Militarized Version of HoloLens 2: The IVAS 1.2 is an updated, militarized version of Microsoft’s HoloLens 2.
  • New Low-Light Sensor from Canon: The 1.2 version includes a new low-light sensor that appears to be a “much better night-vision device.”
  • Improved Field of View: The field of view has been reduced from 70 degrees to 60 degrees, aiming to provide users with improved display clarity that is more in line with their eyes.
  • Redesigned Form Factor: The device has moved from a helmet-like display to a hinged, flat design.
  • Better Center of Gravity: The computer puck, which does the data crunching, has been moved from soldiers’ chests to the back of the helmet to provide a better center of gravity.
  • Reduced Cord Length: The length of the cord connecting the puck to the HUD has been reduced, and its position has been moved from the side to the back of the HUD.
  • Software Changes: The upcoming 1.2 prototype testing will put new software changes through the paces.
  • Combat Capability Focus: The most important factor for the new version is its suitability for combat, which remains the Army’s first priority.
  • Addressing Previous Issues: The new form factor aims to alleviate some of the complaints such as “cybersickness,” which includes symptoms like disorientation, dizziness, eyestrain, and more.

The redesign was influenced by soldier feedback and a “tiger team working group.”

The Networked Battlefield

One of the most promising features of IVAS is its ability to turn each soldier into a sensor, opening the door for the Army to create a networked battlefield. Information sharing is key, and the device aims to offer a multitude of individual and squad-level features. Soldiers can serve as information nodes and sensors for commanders, giving them a wider and deeper insight into what’s happening within their formations.

The Jury is Still Out

While the 1.2 version may be the one soldiers first take to combat, it will not be the last. The device is designed for regular software and likely future hardware upgrades. But the question remains: Will IVAS 1.2 be the game-changer the Army hopes it will be, or will it join the ranks of overhyped military tech that couldn’t quite deliver?

Final Thoughts

The IVAS program is a bold step into the future of military technology, but it’s not without its challenges. As the Army continues its testing, one can only hope that the issues that plagued earlier versions have been adequately addressed. After all, the only thing worse than no information on the battlefield is bad information. So here’s to IVAS 1.2—may it live up to its promise and not its price tag.