Facebook's former virtual reality head is leading a new Silicon Valley startup that has won a contract to support the Pentagon's controversial'Project Maven' program, according to The Intercept. The startup, called Anduril Industries, is led by Palmer Luckey, the 26-year-old founder of Facebook's virtual reality unit Oculus. Project Maven, which seeks to incorporate AI technology on the battlefield, first attracted the attention of Google, but the firm later backed out of its contract after worldwide upheaval from its employees. Palmer Luckey (pictured), Facebook's former virtual reality head, is leading a new Silicon Valley startup that has won a contract to support the Pentagon's Project Maven program Palmer Luckey hit headlines last March after being jettisoned from Oculus, the VR company he helped found and sold to Facebook. In September 2016, it emerged that he secretly funded a pro-Donald Trump group that mocked Hillary Clinton online, during the US presidential race.
Google may have backed out of the US military's Project Maven, but that doesn't mean other tech companies are unwilling to participate. The Intercept has learned that Oculus Rift co-founder Palmer Luckey's defense company, Anduril, won a contract to support the drone AI initiative in 2018. The firm will also support the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, according to newly obtained documents. While there aren't specifics around what that contract would entail, Project Maven relies on machine learning to detect people in drone videos and provide more effective intelligence data. Anduril is most commonly known for its existing system, Lattice.
When you hear talk of a border wall, you typically picture an actual, physical construction. The Oculus co-founder and his startup Anduril Industries have been working on a virtual wall -- one complete with cameras, sensors and VR -- with the aim of scoring a US defense contract and providing border security at a fraction of the cost of a physical wall. Luckey discussed plans for this technology last year, but now it's being tested, both officially and unofficially, and it's catching the eye of US officials. Wired reports that Anduril has constructed a prototype of its Lattice system on a ranch in Texas and is also conducting a government-funded test of its technology outside of San Diego. "They said they could provide broader border security for a lower cost," Melissa Ho, managing director of Silicon Valley's Department of Homeland Security office, told Wired.
The whistle of a stiff and constant wind cuts through a silence that gives no hint of the hostilities, both physical and political, that animate these borderlands. Palmer Luckey--yes, that Palmer Luckey, the 25-year-old entrepreneur who founded the virtual reality company Oculus, sold it to Facebook, and then left Facebook in a haze of political controversy--hands me a Samsung Gear VR headset. Slipping it over my eyes, I am instantly immersed in a digital world that simulates the exact view I had just been enjoying in real life. In the virtual valley below is a glowing green square with text that reads PERSON 98%. Luckey directs me to tilt my head downward, toward the box, and suddenly an image pops up over the VR rendering.
Andreessen Horowitz, the venture capital firm, is backing Palmer Luckey's virtual wall start-up at a $1 billion-plus, unicorn valuation. This is the same Palmer Luckey who left Facebook after it was revealed that he was backing right-wing internet trolls and anti-Hillary Clinton meme factories in 2016. Mr. Luckey's surveillance start-up, Anduril, has gone where many Silicon Valley tech workers have refused to go. The start-up, which is also backed by the Palantir co-founders Joe Lonsdale and Peter Thiel, is testing digital cameras and artificial intelligence technology that tracks people crossing the southern border. Tech workers have made clear in recent months that they want no part of similar military and surveillance projects.