Oculus Founder Plots a Comeback With a Virtual Border Wall
Palmer Freeman Luckey was the kind of wunderkind Silicon Valley venerates. When he was just 21, he made an overnight fortune selling his start-up, a company called Oculus VR that made virtual-reality gear, to Facebook for $2 billion in 2014.
But the success story took a sideways turn this year when Mr. Luckey was pressured to leave Facebook months after news spread that he had secretly donated to an organization dedicated to spreading anti-Hillary Clinton internet memes.
The spokesman for a new medium — virtual reality — briefly became an exile.
Now Mr. Luckey is back. Unburdened by a big company’s culture, he’s more freely sharing his politics on social media. He also contributed $100,000 to Mr. Trump’s inauguration, through one of his companies, according to Federal Election Commission records.
And he has a new start-up in the works, a company that is developing surveillance technology that could be deployed on borders between countries and around military bases, according to three people familiar with the plan who asked for anonymity because it’s still confidential. They said the investment fund run by Peter Thiel, a technology adviser to Mr. Trump, planned to support the effort.
In an emailed statement, Mr. Luckey confirmed that he was working on a defense-related start-up.
“We are spending more than ever on defense technology, yet the pace of innovation has been slowing for decades,” he wrote. “We need a new kind of defense company, one that will save taxpayer dollars while creating superior technology to keep our troops and citizens safer.”
The new business is the latest note in the charmed and very unconventional life of Mr. Luckey. He stood to receive hundreds of millions of dollars from the sale of Oculus to Facebook, he said in court in January during a trialinvolving a dispute between Oculus and a games publisher. The precise amount he left the company with is unclear.
He has accumulated a lot of toys with that Facebook money. Most of his properties are registered to more than a half-dozen companies that can be traced to Mr. Luckey through public business records. Many of their names, like Fiendlord’s Keep, Black Omen and Wings of Time, relate to a video game called Chrono Trigger.
Mr. Luckey, 24, lives in a 78-year-old mansion in affluent Woodside, Calif., with a group of friends, according to public records, and Facebook posts by his roommates. One of his roommates is his girlfriend, Nicole Edelmann, who has received attention for her support of GamerGate, a loose online movement that has sought to push back against social progressivism in video games.
Mr. Luckey and Ms. Edelmann are devotees of cosplay — short for costume play — in which people dress as characters from games and comic books. In May, they posed for photos at a cosplay conference in Japan dressed as a character from the game Metal Gear Solid, complete with identical bikini tops, ripped black tights and ammunition belts.