Oculus inventor's startup takes on military drone work Google gave up, report says

Palmer Luckey's new company, Anduril, seems to be filling a void after Google didn't renew its Project Maven contract with the Pentagon.

Katie Collins Senior European Correspondent
Katie a UK-based news reporter and features writer. Officially, she is CNET's European correspondent, covering tech policy and Big Tech in the EU and UK. Unofficially, she serves as CNET's Taylor Swift correspondent. You can also find her writing about tech for good, ethics and human rights, the climate crisis, robots, travel and digital culture. She was once described a "living synth" by London's Evening Standard for having a microchip injected into her hand.
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Palmer Luckey has said he's concerned the US military is falling behind in terms of technology.

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Oculus founder Palmer Luckey's new company has won a contract with the Pentagon to work on a military project focused on AI and drones , according to The Intercept.

Luckey founded military tech company Anduril Industries in 2017 after he was let go from Facebook, which bought  Oculus  in 2014. Anduril has already been building border surveillance tech that helps the US government catch people trying to illegally cross the border from Mexico. But The Intercept reported Saturday that the Pentagon also contracted the company late last year to work on a drone project.

For Project Maven, The Intercept reported, Anduril is developing software that can scour hours of drone footage to identify people, separating them from their environments. It's effectively replacing the laborious process of military personnel manually scanning footage.

If the name Project Maven sounds familiar, that's because Google previously worked on the program. The company chose not to renew its Project Maven contract with the Pentagon after 3,000 employees reportedly signed a petition and a dozen quit in protest.

For many Silicon Valley tech giants, doing work on military projects -- particularly on weapons development -- has proved contentious, sparking moral and ethical dilemmas. Google has said it will still work with the Pentagon but not on weapons projects. Last month, Microsoft refused to honor calls by employees to end a HoloLens project it was working on with the US military following outrage from employees.

Luckey has a different attitude. In November, Luckey said tech companies shouldn't try to dictate military policy or deny the military vital tools. He said he's concerned that the US is falling behind and could lose the next war if tech companies don't step up.

It's a viewpoint he reiterated in a tweet last week, saying that "technological abstinence is not realistic or ethical."

An Anduril spokeswoman said she couldn't comment on any contracts the company might have.

Watch this: See the uncanny virtual humans Oculus is working on

Originally published at 6:12 a.m. PT.
Updated at 10:22 a.m. PT: Added background on Luckey.
Correction: March 26. 3:42 a.m PT: An earlier version of this article mistakenly stated that Microsoft did end its HoloLens project following calls by employees to do so.