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Wearable Tech

Who is Palmer Luckey?

And why does Sen. Ted Cruz care?

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Palmer Luckey in December 2016.

James Martin/CNET

This is Palmer Luckey.

You might have heard his name earlier today, when Sen. Ted Cruz asked Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg during his grilling by Congress why he fired Luckey last year. Zuckerberg said he wasn't fired for his political views.

It was kind of a weird question, for three reasons:

  • Zuckerberg was there to answer questions about the Cambridge Analytica scandal. It's kind of a big deal
  • Facebook has never actually confirmed that Luckey was fired (and technically still hasn't).
  • Luckey didn't work on the social network part of Facebook's business.

So now, I bet you're really curious who Luckey actually is. 

I'll keep it quick:

25-year-old Palmer Freeman Luckey is the inventor of the Oculus Rift, the first in the recent wave of virtual reality headsets, which took advantage of the rapid advancement of mobile phone components (particularly high-res LCD and OLED screens and motion sensors) to create the convincing illusion of stepping into another world.

He's the boy genius who -- by posing for a particularly goofy cover of Time magazine, not to mention his appearances at countless tradeshows -- became the de facto face of VR.

He's one of the several co-founders of the company Oculus VR, whose sale to Facebook for $2 billion in 2014 kickstarted a slew of investment in virtual reality. 

And he's the only co-founder of Oculus who appears to have been unceremoniously ejected and his public role totally phased out in favor of Zuckerberg himself, after Luckey was caught lying about his involvement in an anti-Hillary Clinton billboard campaign.

The typically chatty Luckey went completely dark on social media for months after the scandal, but re-emerged in April 2017 with a particularly apt picture for his Twitter avatar: an aging Obi-Wan Kenobi from Star Wars. ("If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine," right?)

Last we heard, Luckey's working on virtual border wall technology for the Trump administration, with a new defense tech startup called Anduril -- named after the legendary sword from The Lord of the Rings.

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Facebook didn't immediately respond to a request for comment about whether Luckey was fired, as Sen. Cruz suggested.

By the way, here's one reason Sen. Cruz might care about Luckey, as noted by BuzzFeed reporter Ryan Mac:

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Luckey contributed $5,400 to Sen. Cruz's campaign, according to the Federal Election Commission and OpenSecrets.org. 

Screenshot by Sean Hollister/CNET

Disclosure: Sean's wife works for Facebook as an internal video producer.