Palmer Luckey’s 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.
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 project’s initial 12 days in operation.
Anduril’s 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 administration’s traditional idea of a border wall, but its pilot program results coupled with its ties to the Trump administration certainly won’t hurt its odds of securing a federal border contract.