A 24-year-old Silicon Valley prodigy who was pushed out of his own virtual reality company for his pro-Trump leanings is making a comeback with a startup that aims to develop surveillance technology for the president’s proposed border wall.
Palmer Luckey became a millionaire many times over when he sold his VR equipment company, Oculus, to Facebook for $2 billion in 2014. But his success soon turned sour when media reports revealed that he had donated money to a group that created anti-Hillary Clinton memes, making him something of a pariah in the unabashedly liberal tech community.
Now the young entrepreneur is back with a new venture dedicated to developing advanced surveillance technology that could be used to compliment or replace a physical border wall, reports The New York Times. Luckey confirmed he is working on a security-related startup that uses a combination of infra-red sensors and LIDAR, the same light-detection technology found in most autonomous cars.
The technology could be used in place of a border wall between countries or around military bases.
“We are spending more than ever on defense technology, yet the pace of innovation has been slowing for decades,” he wrote in an email to TheNYT. “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.”
Peter Thiel, the controversial tech investor and prominent Trump backer in Silicon Valley, is reportedly funding the project.
Three years ago, Luckey was the toast of the tech community when Facebook announced the deal to acquire Oculus. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg promised to help the VR startup develop its groundbreaking Rift technology for gaming and, eventually, as platform for “many other experiences” including education and medicine.
Politics ended the honeymoon in 2016 when The Daily Beast published a report saying that Luckey had donated $10,000 to a pro-Trump nonprofit called Nimble America. Luckey confirmed the donation, explaining that he had supported the group because it had “fresh ideas on how to communicate with young voters through the use of several billboards.” He added that he considered himself a “libertarian” who was supporting Gary Johnson’s candidacy.
Luckey’s new security technology venture comes as the idiosyncratic entrepreneur has become more deeply involved in backing right of center politicians. He donated $100,000 to Trump’s inauguration and in April hosted a fundraiser for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s 2018 re-election campaign, reports TheNYT.
Luckey has also met with top administration officials, including White House advisor Steve Bannon and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, to discuss border security issues.
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