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Trump and Peter Thiel-backed startup team up for virtual border wall

  • Silicon Valley military contracting startup Anduril has been awarded a contract with US Customs and Border Protection to build a “virtual” wall as a means to monitor illegal crossings in the US.
  • As first reported by the Washington Post, the system will use surveillance towers to detect movement and artificial intelligence to distinguish between humans and other objects, like animals.
  • A price was not disclosed, but Anduril execs told the Post that the deal was worth several hundred million dollars.
  • The news comes as Anduril recently raised $200 million in funding, bringing its valuation to $1.9 billion.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The Trump administration is teaming up with Oculus founder Palmer Luckey’s military contracting firm Anduril Technologies to build a virtual border wall for monitoring illegal passage into the US.

As first reported by The Washington Post, the “wall” will use cameras, thermal imaging, and a network of 200 solar-powered surveillance towers to detect signs of movement in remote and rural locations, and artificial intelligence will be able to distinguish humans from animals and other objects. The system won’t use facial recognition.

“Instead of a having a person’s brain be the sensor fusion engine, the software surfaces information up to the point that a decision can be made, so the user can then go and do something about it,” Anduril’s chief revenue officer Matthew Steckman told the Post.

Any recorded motion and its location will then be sent to the cellphones of US border patrol agents. 

US Customs and Border Protection said in a statement posted on its website that it plans to set up 200 of the surveillance towers by 2022. The system is mobile and can be moved from location to location, with setup only taking two hours. 

“These towers give agents in the field a significant leg up against the criminal networks that facilitate illegal cross-border activity,” Border Patrol Chief Rodney Scott said in the statement. “The more our agents know about what they encounter in the field, the more safely and effectively they can respond.”

Anduril officials told the Post that the deal is worth several hundred million dollars.

The system poses a high-tech, cheaper alternative to Trump’s controversial border wall that comes with a $15 billion price tag and a heavy blow to the environment.

According to the Post, Democrats have long pushed for the use of smart tech for border-crossing detection in lieu of Trumps’ costly physical wall. But the recent widespread backlash against law enforcement’s abuse of power following the police killing of George Floyd could also influence Democrats’ support of the technology, as the Post notes.

Anduril was founded by Oculus founder Palmer Luckey in 2017 after selling the virtual reality company to Facebook for $3 billion three years before. Silicon Valley venture capitalist and Trump advisor Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund was one of Anduril’s early investors.

Anduril recently raised $200 million in funding and is now valued at $1.9 billion.

The startup’s name was inspired by J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings,” which has become a bit of an obsession for those in Silicon Valley’s inner circle. The magical sword in the series, wielded by the trilogy’s hero Aragorn, is called Anduril.

Fans of the beloved books have taken issue with Anduril and other companies with LOTR-inspired names working with border authorities like the CBP.

“It’s really not even close to the point, but between this and [Palantir], wtf is up with tech bros using Lord of the Rings names for their big data services for the military?,” someone tweeted about Anduril last year. “Did I miss some pro-war/surveillance message in Tolkien’s work?”



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