U.S. soldiers wearing Microsoft Corp.’s new goggles used in their most recent field test suffered from “mission-impairing physical impairments,” including headaches, eyestrain, and nausea, according to a summary of the exercise compiled by the Pentagon’s Testing Bureau.
More than 80% of those who experienced discomfort had symptoms after less than three hours with the fitted version of Microsoft’s HoloLens glasses, Nickolas Guertin, director of Operation Test and Evaluation, said in a summary for Army and Defense Department officials. He said the system also still had too many failures of essential functions.
The issues identified during the May and June tests were detailed in a 79-page report this month. The army marked it as “controlled unclassified information” to prevent public dissemination, but Bloomberg News obtained a synopsis.
Despite the device’s shortcomings, Guertin does not consider it hopeless. He recommended that the Army “prioritize improvements” before they are widely deployed to reduce “users’ physical discomfort.” He said improvements were also needed to the goggles’ low-light sensors, display clarity, field of view and poor reliability of some key features.
On the plus side, the latest model’s reliability has improved for a key metric — the mean time between failures that render the entire system inoperable, according to the report. Leaders and soldiers also reported that the latest version “improves navigation and coordination of unit movements,” Guertin wrote.
Microsoft’s Integrated Visual Augmentation System (IVAS) is said to provide a “heads-up display” for US ground forces, similar to that used by fighter pilots. It would allow commanders to project information onto a visor in front of a soldier’s face and would include features such as night vision. The Army projects it will spend as much as $21.9 billion on goggles, parts and support services over a decade if all options are exercised.
The test results will be closely evaluated by lawmakers when deciding whether to approve $424.2 million the Army planned to spend on the program this fiscal year. The House and Senate Appropriations Committees separately proposed deep cuts to the Army’s request pending the results of the tests.
A finding that might give Congressmen pause: Soldiers’ acceptance of the goggles “remains low,” and they and their leaders said they “do not contribute to their ability to accomplish their mission.” The exercise represented the system’s fifth “Soldier Touch Point” test, a widely lauded initiative by the Army to gather Soldier feedback early in the acquisition process.
Microsoft, which has not received a copy of the test results, said in a statement that “our close collaboration with the Army enabled us to rapidly build” and modify the device “to create a transformative platform that will provide enhanced security for the… Soldiers offers and effectiveness. We are moving forward with the production and delivery of the first set of devices.
Doug Bush, the Army’s assistant secretary for procurement, said in a statement that the service had “conducted a thorough operational assessment” and was “fully aware” of the audit office’s concerns. The Army is adjusting the program’s deployment and schedule “to allow time to develop solutions to the problems identified,” he said.
He said the Army believes that the finding that the goggles cause “physical impairments” exaggerates this issue, but is “seeking significant improvements to address soldiers’ concerns about comfort and fit.”
In August, Bush gave the Army permission to begin accepting some of the initial 5,000 goggles produced, but they have been shelved, saying the service is “adjusting its schedule of operations to allow time to fix deficiencies and also deploy units.” , which focus on training activities.”
When asked why the Army directed the testing bureau to label the report as “controlled unclassified information,” Bush said the service “followed appropriate DoD guidelines for classification.”