Palmer Luckey holds up Oculus Rift controllers

Oculus founder to begin work on border surveillance technology

Image credit: eVRydayVR

Palmer Luckey, founder of Oculus and inventor of the Oculus Rift virtual reality (VR) headset, is founding a start-up which will develop surveillance technology for borders, military bases and public events.

Mr Luckey began experimenting with his own VR headset designs as a teenager. He sold Oculus to Facebook for £1.55 billion in 2014, at the age of 21. Until March, Mr Luckey continued to work for Oculus at Facebook, resigning after it was revealed that he had donated $10,000 to a pro-Trump group, Nimble America, which was behind anti-Clinton memes and billboard campaigns during the 2016 US Presidential Election.

The start-up will be based in Southern California, and will focus on developing surveillance technology. Former Oculus employees – including its first employee, Christopher Dycus – are thought to have been recruited to work for the start-up.

“We are spending more than ever on defence technology, yet the pace of innovation has been slowing for decades,” said Mr Luckey in a statement for the New York Times.

“We need a new kind of defence company, one that will save taxpayer dollars while creating superior technology to keep our troops and citizens safer.”

According to insiders quoted in the New York Times, the company is aiming to monitor suspicious activity – such as illegal border crossings – using sensors similar to those used in autonomous vehicles. Lidar (light and radar, or “light detection and ranging”) is a surveillance method which uses pulses of laser light to measure the distance of the sensor to surrounding objects and build up a 3D representation of its surroundings.

Specialised software would distinguish between harmless activity, such as birds, and suspicious activity, such as the appearance of drones.

Mr Luckey believes that his surveillance system could be mounted on telephone poles, and be built and deployed less expensively and disruptively than the proposed “wall” across the US-Mexico border.

Senior members of the Trump administration have been informed about the technology, including Ryan Zinke, Secretary of the Interior. According to a statement from an Interior Department spokesperson, Zinke referred Mr Luckey to the Department of Homeland Security.

Mr Luckey eventually would like to explore new applications of other technologies, such as drones, he has said.

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