Palmer Luckey, founder of Oculus VR and Anduril Industries — a startup that aims to improve the current technology being used at the United States’ southern border to help tackle ‘unauthorized border crossings,’ as previously reported by WIRED, — will be speaking at Cornell on Wednesday.
Anduril Industries is currently pitching its systems as a complement, or perhaps even an outright substitute, to current border technology. According to the event Facebook page, Anduril specializes in the creation of “sensor fusion systems, predictive artificial intelligence, and self healing mesh networking platforms for autonomous systems.”
Luckey came under fire on Twitter and multiple other websites in mid 2016 for donating $10,000 to Nimble America, a group that The New York Times describes as a “pro-Trump nonprofit.” According to USA Today, Nimble America is responsible for creating billboards and various other media against democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
“I contributed $10,000 to Nimble America because I thought the organization had fresh ideas on how to communicate with young voters through the use of several billboards,” Luckey posted on Facebook in September 2016. “I am a libertarian who has publicly supported Ron Paul and Gary Johnson in the past, and I plan on voting for Gary in this election as well.”
The information session, hosted by the Association of Computer Science Undergraduates, touts Anduril as “a next generation defense company building hardware and software that solves important national security problems,” according to the Facebook event description. The Facebook page also explained the company’s goal to “use cutting edge technology to fight fires, protect troops, and keep America safe.”
“We have no comments on the Anduril event, but we’d like to reiterate ACSU’s mission statement,” the ACSU told The Sun, highlighting their goal to “promote educational, professional, and social interaction among students interested in computer science and facilitate student communication with faculty, alumni, and corporate representatives to enhance the undergraduate experience in computer science.”
The border security system pioneered by Anduril “merges VR with surveillance tools to create a digital wall that is not a barrier so much as a web of all-seeing eyes, with intelligence to know what it sees,” according to the WIRED article.
The system is named Lattice and can detect and identify motion within a two-mile radius.
“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,” according to a TechCrunch article.
While Anduril still has yet to prove the technology’s effectiveness on a large scale, it has run smaller tests in both Texas and San Diego, according to TechCrunch.
Over a 12-week time period, Lattice security towers on a Texas rancher’s private land helped border agents apprehend 55 individuals and seize 982 pounds of marijuana, according to an article in The Verge. Thirty-nine of those apprehended were in incidents unrelated to the seizure of illegal substances.
The WIRED article also reported that Anduril is “pitching its technology to the Department of Homeland Security as a complement to—or substitute for—much of President Trump’s promised physical wall along the border with Mexico.”
According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, two other executives at Anduril — CEO Brian W. Schimpf ’07 and COO Matthew M. Grimm ’06 M.Eng. ’07 — spent at least six years at Palantir, a data storage and analysis company that has been criticized in the past for potentially intrusive surveillance methods, specifically in regards to its usage by law enforcement officials.
This has led students to question why ACSU would invite such a controversial organization to campus, given Cornell University’s historical support of undocumented students.
A student in the College of Engineering, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of backlash, linked the speaker to larger questions about decisions on which companies to invite to campus.
“In my eyes, this reflects a larger problem of engineering clubs not considering ethical issues when bringing companies to campus,” the student said. “Hopefully this incident will make them reconsider giving a platform to other harmful companies, such as Exxon.”