Just a few months after being edged out of Facebook, Oculus founder Palmer Luckey has a new startup, in a new industry — defense. The New York Times reports that Luckey is working on surveillance technology designed to be used at national borders and at military bases, using a variety of sensors to watch for people crossing between countries or into restricted areas illegally.
In pitching the technology, Luckey has reportedly secured meetings with key White House representatives, including Trump right-hand-man Steve Bannon. He could also secure funding for the venture, with PayPal founder Peter Thiel apparently mulling investment through his Founder’s Fund company.
The planned system uses lidar and infra-red sensors, as well as regular cameras, to monitor perimeter areas. People familiar with the technology say that it will be able to distinguish between moving targets through specialized software — identifying the difference between humans or coyotes, for example — and even detect drones flying in the vicinity.
Luckey outlined his plans in an email to the NYT, saying that while governments were spending more than ever on defense, innovation had been slowing down. “We need a new kind of defense company, one that will save taxpayer dollars while creating superior technology to keep our troops and citizens safer,” he said. His proposed surveillance system could be mounted on poles — a solution that Luckey reportedly sees as a cheaper and easier way to restrict the US-Mexico border than Trump’s oft-mentioned wall.
To that end, Luckey has apparently started canvassing the current US administration to sell them on his surveillance idea. The New York Times says that he has spoken with the president’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, about using similar technology to monitor the country’s southern border. Gizmodo first reported news of another meeting, held in the White House in April, between Luckey and Ryan Zinke, the secretary of the interior. A spokesperson for Zinke said there had been no action from the meeting, but confirmed that Luckey had been pitching the secretary on border control technology.
The first investment for the new company could come from another Trump ally — Peter Thiel. Both Luckey and Thiel (who hit headlines last year for bankrolling Hulk Hogan’s lawsuit in a bid to bring down Gawker), have distinguished themselves over the past few years as some of the few big Silicon Valley figures willing to publicly support Republican candidates and politics. Thiel donated $ 1.25 million to Donald Trump’s election campaign late in the cycle, before stepping into a role in the president-elect’s transition team.
While Luckey previously denied being a Trump supporter, it was revealed that he donated thousands of dollars to an organization devoted to attacking Hillary Clinton with memes during the presidential campaigns. Earlier this year, Luckey also donated $ 100,000 to Trump’s inaugural celebrations, hiding the cash behind shell corporations named after SNES video game Chrono Trigger. These actions have been seen as contributing factors to his departure from Facebook, where he had retained a role after Oculus was bought out for $ 2 billion in 2014.
Previously an outsized personality, online and at a string of industry events, Luckey had effected a policy of radio silence during his latter days at Facebook, but his departure marked a renewed public presence. He was pictured in a bikini during a VR convention in Japan, cosplaying as Metal Gear Solid V character Quiet, but also showed a willingness to return to politics, holding a fundraiser for Texas senator and failed Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz.
That fundraiser could be an indication of Luckey’s politics, or simply his business nous, with Cruz as one of the loudest proponents for border security. Luckey’s new venture might not be as thrilling to the average consumer as Oculus was, but with people like Cruz in positions of power in the current White House, it may have an easier time finding a lucrative market.