During a news cycle where headline after headline covers the political, social, and emotional turmoil at the United States-Mexico border, departed Oculus co-founder Palmer Luckey is proposing a blanket solution involving virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and a few very tall towers. This virtual border wall was revealed last year, but Wired has now reported more details about Luckeys venture Anduril Industries. The company is touting a surveillance system called Lattice that would survey the motion of potential border-crossers from up to two miles away. Lattice, as detailed in Wired, is primarily based off of well-established security technologies — a combination of cameras, LIDAR, and infrared sensors — that capture data around the border. This is then analyzed by artificial intelligence that is trained to detect the difference between a tumbleweed, car, coyote, or human based on gait and other factors. Luckey claims this kind of deep learning, which has been perfected by computer vision experts over the years, can let Anduril bypass the expensive zoom lenses and thermal detectors offered up by other border security startups. In one Lattice demo, author Stephen Levy put on a Samsung Gear VR headset that showed the wearer a direct video feed of the border. If anything — a human, vehicle, or animal — tried to pass, the system gave users a bright green alert identifying it along with a probability certainty. The system is currently being tested on a Texas ranchers private land. Over a 10-week span, Andurils security towers apparently helped border agents catch 55 people and seize 982 pounds of marijuana, although 39 of those arrests werent connected to drugs. The dream of an electronically souped-up border isnt particularly original or even that new. Back in 2006, the DHS launched a competition to create a comprehensive border wall. Its project, dubbed SBInet (which stands for Secure Border Initiative), would be a 53-mile-long system featuring the newest infrastructure, technology, and rapid response capabilities available. The project, which was eventually run by Boeing, was crushed by mismanagement at the federal level for things like vague deadlines, spiraling costs, and not being stringent with checking and preventing bugs. One month in, after spending roughly $1 billion on the project, the DHS put brakes on SBInet. Whats changed since the SBInet meltdown, as Wired points out, is time. The sensors, cameras, and other surveillance tech that Boeing poured its money into can be bought for less now, and its cheaper than the advanced drone systems that some other border tech companies are selling. Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX), whose district includes the nations longest stretch of US-Mexico border, says Lattice could be built for close to $500,000 per mile, instead of a $20 million per mile concrete wall. Andurils limited test doesnt tell us whether Lattice will succeed where SBInet failed, though, or even how many false positives and negatives the identification system had, beyond those 55 arrests. It also doesnt answer any of the moral questions around how a system like Lattice should be used — especially at a time when President Trumps harsh anti-immigration policies have had dangerous or deadly effects on people seeking to enter the country. And since Trump built much of his campaign on the promise of a literal border wall, which will cost an estimated cost of $18 billion, he might not give that up for a virtual equivalent. Luckey is a politically controversial figure. He left Oculus after donating thousands of dollars to an organization devoted to attacking the Clinton campaign with shitposting memes. Anduril is also staffed by former executives from the secretive data-crunching company Palantir, which has done for government industries in the past and raised red flags about intrusive surveillance. (Like Palantir, Andurils name is a Tolkien reference.) Andurils lead investor is the Founders Fund, the firm headed by Palantir co-founder Peter Thiel. Anduril didnt reply to a request for comment. But based on the Wired report, it looks like the ranchs Lattice system is still running, though there are no remarks about how (or if) it will continue. And judging by the fact that the article was written at all, Anduril looks ready to go public with its ambitions, even if we still dont know how effective — or potentially harmful — its products ultimately are.
Oculus founder Palmer Luckey is working on a plan to use AI and VR to spot those attempting to cross the border between the United States and Mexico. Mexico isnt going to pay for it. Luckeys company, Andruil Industries — which refers to the magical sword used by Aragorn in Lord of the Rings — has reportedly set up three tech-filled towers on a Texas ranch near our southern border. The goal is to identify moving objects — both people and animals — from up to two miles away. Once detected, the system would then relay information to a VR headset or television. The hope is that Andruil could one day sell the technology to the Department of Homeland Security who, presumably, would use it in place of, or perhaps as a compliment to, President Trumps proposed border wall. US Customs and Border Patrol told Wired that the technology has, so far, helped to identify 55 people crossing the border over a 10 week span. Luckey, who sold Oculus to Facebook in 2014 for $2 billion left the social network last year. After kick-starting the current VR craze by building one of the first consumer-grade headsets in a garage (or maybe not) Luckey was ousted from Facebook after a crazy year that saw the 25-year-old lose a pricy intellectual property lawsuit before being outed as a member of a pro-Trump troll factory known as Nimble America. The Daily Beast, which broke the story, alleges Luckey funded the organization best known for anti-Clinton, pro-Trump memes and propaganda. In funding news that should surprise no one, the companys biggest backer is another vocal Trump supporter, Peter Thiel. Oculus founder Palmer Luckey is starting a virtual border-wall companyon MIT Technology Review