Virtual border walls are just the start.
Palmer Luckey was the boy genius who co-founded Oculus VR, sold it to Facebook and jumpstarted the second coming of virtual reality -- until he got kicked out. Now, he's a year into his next project: a startup named Anduril that's hoping to use cheap consumer-grade cameras, sensors and lasers to be a better defense contractor.
You might have heard that Luckey's first project is a virtual border wall that could let the US government catch illegal immigrants and trespassers -- just slip on a VR headset and spot people you wouldn't see with the naked eye.
According to a new Wired profile of Luckey's company, that's true -- but it's also maybe just the start. Anduril wants to build all kinds of smarter, more cost-effective technology using distributed networks of sensors. And that includes a self-driving firefighting robot tank built by Mythbusters star Jamie Hyneman.
Here's a picture from Wired:
Called Sentry, it's designed to battle Calfornia wildfires like the ones that ravaged wine country homes last year.
While Wired's Steven Levy tried out a VR simulator, Luckey tells CNET the final vehicle will drive autonomously (using data from the company's distributed Lattice sensor networks) or be driven by a remote operator using VR -- and that views from its sensors can be streamed to firefighters' phones or AR headsets so they can see what's going on in first-person, third-person or a god-like view of the area.
(Though it's worth noting Hyneman doesn't think the tank will drive itself anytime soon -- see our June 14 update at the bottom of this post.)
Luckey also tells CNET another possible product mentioned in Wired's story -- a set of "Call of Duty goggles" to give soldiers more situational awareness using see-through augmented reality -- might even be closer than reported. While Anduril's not yet sure whether it'll build such a headset itself, Luckey says he's already field-testing ruggedized, outdoor-friendly standalone AR headsets using his company's software.
"It is going to take years for the hardware and software to catch up with our ultimate ambition, but the current technology is already immensely useful. We are planning on deploying to government customers in the near future," Luckey says.
You can read more about Luckey's startup, ambitions, virtual border wall (the Department of Homeland Security says it was "intrigued") and the firefighting tank in Wired's full story.
By the way: Did you know Hyneman built an incredibly powerful Battlebot named Blendo years before Mythbusters first aired?
Original story published June 11 at 11:10 a.m. PT.
Update, June 14: Hyneman tells CNET we shouldn't expect the firefighting tank to drive itself anytime soon: "It's conceivable that it would be autonomous at some point, but then it's conceivable we'll have people on Mars before long, and that AI is going to do us all in. That may well happen but not right now. The fires are right now, and remote control is right now," he said.
Disclosure: Sean's wife works for Facebook, owner of Oculus, as an internal video producer.