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The US Army is buying up to 100,000 HoloLens headsets off Microsoft to 'increase lethality'

Peter Farquhar

The US Army will pay Microsoft $US480 million to deliver up to 100,000 of its augmented reality HoloLens headsets.

A report from Bloomberg says the headsets will be used for training and potentially combat.

The giveaway? The US Department of Defense description of the program notes it requires devices that will “increase lethality by enhancing the ability to detect, decide and engage before the enemy”.

"Increase lethality" is perhaps not the wisest choice of words. This type of deal hasn't gone well for tech companies recently.

Most notably, in July, Google, facing a swell of in-house protest, publicly said it would abandon building AI weapons.

It said it will not seek to renew its Project Maven contract with the Pentagon to develop machine learning technology for drones in order for them to quickly identify targets.

Microsoft employees themselves have shown twice this year that they're happy to take a political stance as well, signing a petition against US Immigration using Microsoft AI software, and blogging against bidding on a US military cloud contract.

Perhaps that's why Microsoft's version of the US Army deal has HoloLens "(providing) troops with more and better information to make decisions", according to a statement it emailed to Bloomberg.

Developed by Brazilian software engineer and hardware inventor Alex Kipman, HoloLens' greatest trick is overlaying holographic images over what the wearer is seeing in real-time.

Like its main competitor Magic Leap - which also placed a bid for the contract - it's not quite at a level in terms of both price and content to have made any kind on impact on the consumer market yet.

The most recent report claims Microsoft has shifted about 50,000 headsets, so the DoD deal is a big one in terms of scaling up the technology rapidly.

The military grade versions will add a few new features. The US Army wants night vision, thermal sensing, hearing protection, plus the ability to read vital signs and monitor for things like "readiness" and concussion.

The question now is whether Microsoft's employees are ready to help develop technology that can "increase lethality".