Palmer Luckey
After leaving Meta (ex-Facebook), Palmer Luckey built a deadly VR concept inspired by anime, sparking debate on the future of VR experiences.

Palmer Luckey is a renowned American entrepreneur and inventor celebrated for his pioneering work in virtual reality (VR). Born on September 19, 1992, in Long Beach, California, Luckey developed a passion for technology and electronics early on. He began coursework at Golden West College, Long Beach City College, and California State University, Long Beach, around 15, but left his studies to focus on his burgeoning interest in VR.

In 2012, at the tender age of 19, Luckey founded Oculus VR and revolutionized the VR industry with the creation of the Oculus Rift headset, later known as Meta Quest. His groundbreaking work caught the attention of the tech world, culminating in the acquisition of Oculus by Facebook (now Meta) for a staggering $2 billion in cash and stock in 2014. Such was the impact of his work that he boldly claimed in a 2015 interview with The Telegraph that he 'brought virtual reality back from the dead.'

Despite the controversy that marred his career at Facebook, Luckey's spirit remained unbroken. In 2016, his involvement with far-right groups, including donations to Nimble America, a pro-Trump organization known for posting anti-Clinton memes, stirred significant unrest within the company. This ultimately led to his departure from Facebook in 2016, a mere two years after the acquisition. However, this setback did not deter him from his path.

Undeterred by the setback, Luckey continued his entrepreneurial journey by founding Anduril Industries, a defence technology company focused on advanced surveillance and defence systems. His innovative contributions have significantly shaped the landscape of modern technology, making him a key figure in both virtual reality and defence technology.

The Rise and Divergence of Palmer Luckey

After leaving Meta (formerly Facebook) in 2017, Luckey founded Anduril Industries, a defence technology startup. He has since been critical of Meta's metaverse product, for which Oculus remains a key component.

Virtual Reality (VR) is a cornerstone of Meta's metaverse ambitions. The company has invested heavily in VR development, committing $36 billion thus far with plans for further investment. However, despite these significant investments, Meta's VR and metaverse ventures have yet to achieve profitability.

According to Forbes, Luckey's real-time net worth is $2.3 billion, ranking him approximately 1,725th on their 2023 billionaires list. This financial success stems from the 2014 sale of Oculus VR, the company he founded, to Facebook for $2 billion in cash and stock. Since then, Luckey has raised significant funding for his new venture, Anduril Industries.

Following his departure from Meta in 2017, Luckey founded Anduril Industries, an artificial intelligence (AI)-powered defence technology company that strives to equip the U.S. military with advanced technology.

Anduril's Altius-600 UAS drones were confirmed in use by Ukraine in February 2023 when they were included in a security assistance package by the DOD. The company's strong performance secured a significant $1.5 billion investment (as per CNBC) in its Series E funding round in December 2022, valuing Anduril at $8 billion. This investment brought Anduril's total funding to $2.3 billion.

Controversial VR Experiment

In a 2022 blog post, Luckey revealed a modified VR headset allegedly rigged to explode upon a character's in-game death, sparking controversy. This concept, inspired by the anime "Sword Art Online," was never intended for commercial release and served more as a thought experiment exploring the potential dangers of hyper-realism in VR.

In the blog post titled "If you die in the game, you die in real life," Luckey revealed he built a modified VR headset inspired by the fictional NerveGear from the anime series "Sword Art Online." According to Luckey, this headset incorporated a mechanism to trigger upon in-game death supposedly.

"The idea of tying your real life to your virtual avatar has always fascinated me – you instantly raise the stakes to the maximum level and force people to fundamentally rethink how they interact with the virtual world and the players inside it... only the threat of serious consequences can make a game feel real to you and every other person in the game," Luckey wrote.

However, unlike the fictional NerveGear, Luckey stated he opted for explosives due to the difficulty of implementing the anime's "powerful microwaves" technology. "It is also, as far as I know, the first non-fiction example of a VR device that can actually kill the user. It won't be the last," Luckey wrote.

Luckey described how the headset activated a mechanism during a specific in-game event. "See you in the metaverse," he concluded. Years after leaving Facebook, Palmer Luckey unveiled a new VR headset "driven by military requirements, but it's also going to be used for non-military stuff."

At the Augmented World Expo, Luckey fulfilled his promise to unveil a new head-mounted display (HMD) but offered few details beyond its military focus and potential civilian applications. He hinted it's still under early development.

Luckey suggested "adult entertainment" as a niche ripe for VR hardware innovation by smaller companies due to mainstream avoidance. He, however, clarified this is not his current project's focus.

While details remain scarce, Luckey's new HMD promises a mix of military and civilian applications. Only time will tell if it becomes the next VR breakthrough.