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Palmer Luckey chases government contracts with 'virtual wall'


His company's technology has already led to dozens of arrests. When you hear talk of a border wall, you typically picture an actual, physical construction. But that's not the case for Palmer Luckey. 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. "We were intrigued by that." Over the course of 10 weeks, the Lattice technology stationed on the Texas ranch helped lead to the arrest of 55 people. During the first 12 days of the ongoing test outside of San Diego, Lattice was used to capture 10 people. Anduril's engineers used open source data to train a machine learning system how to differentiate objects like animals, automobiles, tumbleweeds and humans. Now, when Lattice's sensors spot anything moving nearby, it can say what that object most likely is and by what percentage it's sure. Anduril's technology is already controversial, but its backers are no stranger to that. Along with Luckey -- who left Facebook after he became embroiled in controversy following reports that he donated money to and allegedly wrote Reddit posts for a racist, alt-right group -- Anduril's co-founders include former executives of Peter Thiel's secretive data-mining company Palantir. The company's lead investor is Thiel's VC firm Founders Fund. Lattice comes as DHS and the Trump administration continue to pursue harsh and controversial immigration policies and at a time when other companies' employees have pushed back against decisions to sign government contracts. Google recently announced it wouldn't renew its Pentagon contract after thousands of its staff signed a petition against the deal and over a dozen resigned because of it. When asked if the company would ever build systems that killed people, Anduril CEO Brian Schimpf told Wired, "We're really focused on the intelligence and surveillance piece right now," but added, "I wouldn't say that's a line we're drawing."

Palmer Luckey’s defense company Anduril is already leading to arrests at the southern border


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.