Microsoft has said that the CEO of HoloLens is leaving the company, putting the future of the augmented reality project into question.
Alex Kipman, who has been with the software giant since 2001, was accused of inappropriate behavior towards female employees at the company by current and former employees in a report issued in late May.
Kipman has been the public face of the HoloLens initiative, and his departure comes at a sensitive time for the project, as Microsoft makes a decision on whether to continue developing its hardware for augmented reality.
Panos Panay, who heads the Surface Computer division, now oversees HoloLens. Jeff Tepper, the company’s vice president who manages areas such as the Thames collaborative product, is in charge of the software part of the group.
Scott Guthrie, head of Microsoft’s cloud division, explained the changes in a memo sent to executives. Prior to HoloLens, Kipman worked on the Windows and Xbox teams and was one of the longest-serving employees.
Microsoft supplies US soldiers with HoloLens
The changes come as Microsoft awaits the fate of a $21.9 billion contract that may determine whether there is enough demand for HoloLens to continue developing the product.
The company agreed to provide a customized version of the headwear to the US Army in a 10-year agreement that includes up to 121,500 eyewear, along with parts, logistical support and program management.
But this project did not go smoothly. The military said in April it could spend as little as half the maximum amount. Army Secretary Christine Wormott last month expressed confidence that the flaws in the system, called IVAS, had been resolved.
The company has other commercial customers for HoloLens, but needs the Army deal to secure a sufficient range of the product.
And if the Army deal doesn’t go well, the company may have to reassess whether it can continue making HoloLens.
The software giant has a deal with Samsung that will allow the South Korean electronics giant to start making devices for Microsoft’s corporate customers.
As one of the original executives of the HoloLens project and a staunch supporter of the technology, Kipman was committed to the in-house device.
And questions about the future of the glasses come as the company tries to define its strategy for the so-called metaverse. It is a concept of futuristic computing based on users who live, work and play in interconnected virtual worlds.
Hololens was seen as a cornerstone of this strategy. The changes that have occurred may prompt Microsoft to focus its development of Metaverse on software.
Much of the company’s initial metaphysical efforts are linked to glasses from other companies. It relies on software such as the Times app, where Microsoft introduced the idea of 3D avatars in meetings.
This is part of the reason why HoloLens programming has moved under Jeff Tepper’s leadership. His group includes some of the company’s Metaverse engineers.