Palmer Luckeys defense project just crawled out of stealth mode. Between a flattering new Wired piece and its first few official tweets, the secretive year-old company known as Anduril is stepping into the light. Anduril, based out of Orange County, was founded quietly in June 2017 by Oculus founder Palmer Luckey, three former Palantir employees (Matt Grimm, Anduril COO; Trae Stephens, Chairman; Brian Schimpf, CEO) and an early Oculus hardware lead Joe Chen. Our first was great, thanks for the wishes @PalmerLuckey. While defense contractors typically operate under levels of secrecy uncharacteristic for the tech industry, a degree of exposure is useful for attracting additional investors and painting the project in an attractive light as it pursues government contracts. In late 2017, TechCrunch reported that the company was working on AR and VR for battlefield awareness, among other defense applications. As Wired reports, Anduril calls its bespoke border wall surveillance system Lattice and intends for it to undercut the price of traditional border wall proposals by a substantial margin, employing high-tech, low-cost off-the-shelf devices and sensors where a traditional proposal would pour vertical concrete. These sensors are networked together and feed into an AI system that sifts through the data to detect a human presence, highlight it in a green box and send push alerts designed to notify Customs and Border Protection agents in real time. Anduril is testing the system, in operation since March 2018, on private land in coordination with Texas Rep. Will Hurd and a cattle rancher on the Texas border. At a second site, Anduril is running a pilot program in coordination with DHS and a local border patrol office. Wired reports that the preliminary system has proven effective: Lattice led to the apprehension of 55 individuals crossing the Texas border and 10 interceptions at the San Diego site within the projects initial 12 days in operation. Andurils second project, known as Sentry, is the development of military-style armored autonomous vehicles that can fight fires in California. Apparently MythBusters host Jamie Hyneman is currently developing such a vehicle as a subcontractor for Anduril, working out of Oakland. These vehicles could be controlled remotely and Wired describes the experience of steering the vehicle and firing water cannons as exactly like playing a videogame. Beyond its debut profile, Anduril also made updates to its website, swapping some language, adding founder bios and framing its mission in light of the international arms race toward technological dominance: Look no further than statements by Chinese and Russian leaders to see their focus on technological dominance. They are devoting massive resources to win this battle for the future, and also recruiting the best tech talent available to this cause. We must, and will, do the same. As we noted previously, Anduril has established relationships with the Trump administration through Peter Thiel colleague and Anduril co-founder Stephens (Stephens was involved in the Department of Defense transition with a focus on the procurements process) and Luckey, a vocal supporter of the president. In 2017, Anduril spent $80,000 on lobbying through the prominent firm Invariant and another $60,000 so far in 2018. Anduril might not fit the Trump administrations traditional idea of a border wall, but its pilot program results coupled with its ties to the Trump administration certainly wont hurt its odds of securing a federal border contract.
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.