New de­fense tech firm led by ex-Palan­tir en­gi­neers

Palmer Luckey, who founded Ocu­lus VR, has said lit­tle about his lat­est ven­ture, An­duril In­dus­tries.

Los Angeles Times - - BUSINESS BEAT - By Paresh Dave paresh.dave@la­ Times staff writ­ers Christina Bel­lan­toni and Mary McNa­mara con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Two for­mer Palan­tir Tech­nolo­gies en­gi­neers ap­pear to be in charge of Palmer Luckey’s new de­fense tech­nol­ogy start-up An­duril In­dus­tries, ac­cord­ing to newly re­viewed reg­u­la­tory fil­ings.

Luckey, a Long Beach na­tive ac­claimed for cat­alyz­ing the nascent vir­tual re­al­ity tech­nol­ogy in­dus­try by found­ing Ocu­lus VR, has said his new ven­ture could do the same for the de­fense in­dus­try.

“We are spend­ing more than ever on de­fense tech­nol­ogy, yet the pace of in­no­va­tion has been slow­ing for decades,” he told the New York Times in a brief state­ment in early June.

Beyond that, Luckey has said lit­tle pub­licly about An­duril’s makeup or am­bi­tions since its found­ing April 20. He left Face­book’s Ocu­lus di­vi­sion in late March for un­spec­i­fied rea­sons.

His role at An­duril is un­clear. But reg­is­tra­tion doc­u­ments filed with Cal­i­for­nia in late June list Brian W. Schimpf as chief ex­ec­u­tive and Matthew W. Grimm as chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer. The doc­u­ments also point to a small of­fice at an Irvine business park as the com­pany’s head­quar­ters.

LinkedIn pro­files for Schimpf and Grimm show they spent at least years six to­gether at Palan­tir, where they de­scribed their job as tweak­ing the com­pany’s data anal­y­sis soft­ware to meet client de­sires. Palan­tir’s clients in­clude law en­force­ment agen­cies and cor­po­ra­tions that want to search through mul­ti­ple sets of in­for­ma­tion with ease. The sen­si­tive na­ture of the work has made Palan­tir one of Sil­i­con Val­ley’s most se­cre­tive and highly val­ued com­pa­nies.

Both Schimpf and Grimm note that they have bach­e­lor’s de­grees from Cor­nell Univer­sity. Schimpf was on a Cor­nell team that com­peted — un­suc­cess­fully — in the De­fense Depart­ment’s an­nual com­pe­ti­tion to de­velop an au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cle that can race across rough desert terrain.

That Luckey would con­nect with peo­ple with ties to Palan­tir isn’t sur­pris­ing. Palan­tir was kick­started with fund­ing from Pe­ter Thiel, whose Founders Fund ven­ture cap­i­tal firm was set to in­vest in Luckey’s new firm, ac­cord­ing to the New York Times re­port.

The Thiel con­nec­tion is ev­i­dent in An­duril’s name too. Thiel in­vest­ment funds and com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing Palan­tir, are known for bor­row­ing from the fan­tasy book se­ries “Lord of the Rings.” An­duril was the sword re­ferred to as the flame of the West, forged from the re­mains of the weapon that cut the ring of power from Sau­ron's fin­ger. The freshly cast weapon be­came a sym­bol of the one true king.

In­cor­po­ra­tion doc­u­ments for An­duril don’t des­ig­nate a price for the 20 mil­lion au­tho­rized shares of the start-up, sug­gest­ing that if Founders Fund has al­ready in­vested, it has prob­a­bly been in the form of a loan that could later be con­verted into stock.

An­duril and Thiel didn’t re­spond to re­quests for com­ment. The com­pany’s name came to light last week when CNN and other me­dia out­lets re­ported that U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, a Texas Repub­li­can, had used data from An­duril as a foun­da­tion for pro­posed leg­is­la­tion. A bill that Hurd and other law­mak­ers in­tro­duced last week calls for the Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity to re­search a “smart” wall along the U.S.-Mex­ico bor­der be­fore build­ing a tra­di­tional one.

Cit­ing Luckey, Hurd said a high-tech wall would run about 2% of the cost of stan­dard pro­pos­als. The pair vis­ited the Texas-Mex­ico bor­der to­gether in June, ac­cord­ing to the San An­to­nio Ex­press-News.

An­duril’s jobs web­site says the com­pany is seek­ing en­gi­neers with ex­per­tise in sen­sors, cam­eras, radars, ro­bot­ics and fly­ing ob­jects. A com­bi­na­tion of such tech­nolo­gies de­ployed along a bor­der could al­low a com­puter to au­to­mat­i­cally de­tect ac­tiv­ity, alert law en­force­ment and track fur­ther move­ment.

Luckey, 24, left Face­book un­der a cloud of con­tro­versy. Ocu­lus has re­peat­edly re­duced the price for its yearold vir­tual re­al­ity head­set, which points to weak­erthan-pre­dicted de­mand.

He was im­pli­cated in a trade­mark mis­use law­suit that left Ocu­lus on the hook for hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars af­ter a jury verdict in Fe­bru­ary. And con­sumers and Ocu­lus business part­ners had de­cried Luckey’s do­na­tions to a con­ser­va­tive po­lit­i­cal group dur­ing last year’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion.

Thiel has Pres­i­dent Trump’s ear. Trump made for­ti­fy­ing the bor­der a key part of his pres­i­den­tial plat­form. The ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist’s for­mer chief of staff is a top tech­nol­ogy ad­vi­sor at the White House, and Thiel has played a role in bring­ing to­gether tech ex­ec­u­tives to meet with Trump and other White House lead­ers.

Allen J. Sch­aben Los An­ge­les Times

PALMER LUCKEY, above in 2013 hold­ing the Ocu­lus Rift vir­tual re­al­ity de­vice, is a Long Beach na­tive ac­claimed for cat­alyz­ing the VR in­dus­try. He left Face­book’s Ocu­lus di­vi­sion in March for un­spec­i­fied rea­sons.

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