Chinese military leverage Microsoft's HoloLens 2 headsets for combat amid the US government's export ban on AI chips over security concerns

Microsoft HoloLens for Army
(Image credit: Microsoft)

What you need to know

  • Despite the rivalry between China and the US, the Chinese military was recently spotted on a local TV station using Microsoft's HoloLens 2 headsets while training in aircraft maintenance on a warplane.
  • The move has sparked uproar among the Chinese, who expressed the need for the country to manufacture their own devices rather than sourcing them from third parties.
  • This comes a few months after the US government placed an exportation ban preventing chipmakers from shipping AI chips to the country over military and security concerns.
  • The US insists that the move is designed to establish control over the use of the components and not to run down China's economy.
  • It's unclear if Microsoft will continue investing in its HoloLens brand.

This past week, the Microsoft HoloLens 2 headset appeared on CCTV-7, the military channel of Chinese state broadcaster CCTV. In the short clip, a Chinese People's Liberation Army member was spotted rocking Microsoft's mixed-reality smart glasses while training in aircraft maintenance on a warplane.

As you may know, the hardware leverages a custom version of Windows to overlay hologram apps in a real-world space. This sets it apart from competitors, who often use full-immersion displays, which essentially transport users to a new reality. This is one of the main reasons users often complain of motion sickness when using these gadgets. 

In this particular scenario, as highlighted by Newsweek, the user is seen skillfully leveraging the headset's capabilities to scrutinize the warplane without touching it. Per the video shared, the trainee interacts with the hardware's operating system via gestures such as raising his palm to his face. He's also seen highlighting a panel on the fighter jet engine and even leveraging interactive tools, including a drill and wrench, to analyze the extent of repairs required.

China's embracing Microsoft's hardware, as outlined by the local TV station, is an avenue for the country to enhance combat effectiveness while simultaneously building upon its efforts to modernize the military. 

We're all aware of the longstanding rivalry between China and the US, with the latter having imposed strict export rules banning chipmakers like NVIDIA from shipping AI chips to China over military concerns. However, the US government did address the issue, citing that the ban is in place to establish control over the use of the chips and not to run down China's economy.

The video has gained quite a bit of traction with a hashtag trending most of last week, racking up to 500 million views on China's Twitter-like social media platform, Weibo.

Microsoft is awfully quite about its investment in HoloLens hardware

IVAS headset based on Microsoft HoloLens

(Image credit: U.S. Army)

Things have been particularly quiet on Microsoft's mixed reality HoloLens front, leaving it to speculation whether the company will continue its AR hardware efforts or completely abandon them. Last year, several reports emerged indicating that the company had jumped ship, citing that Microsoft had canceled HoloLens 3.

Shortly after, the US Army indicated that it wouldn't invest in the technology if the company didn't ship an updated version of the military-grade headset with sophisticated features. And because Microsoft's massive layouts affected the HoloLens division, it's doubtful that the company will be able to deliver on these demands. However, the next phase is for the military-grade headset for version 1.2 of the device.

Microsoft could potentially be working on HoloLens 3 after a patent that resembles the company's flagship headset appeared. It features unique modularity, which might be more consumer-friendly than the available retail models at around $3,500.

Do you think Microsoft's HoloLens tech will return next year? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Kevin Okemwa

Kevin Okemwa is a seasoned tech journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya with lots of experience covering the latest trends and developments in the industry at Windows Central. With a passion for innovation and a keen eye for detail, he has written for leading publications such as OnMSFT, MakeUseOf, and Windows Report, providing insightful analysis and breaking news on everything revolving around the Microsoft ecosystem. You'll also catch him occasionally contributing at iMore about Apple and AI. While AFK and not busy following the ever-emerging trends in tech, you can find him exploring the world or listening to music.