Luckey at SVVR 2014
|Born||Palmer Freeman Luckey|
September 19, 1992
Long Beach, California, U.S.
|Education||California State University, Long Beach|
|Occupation||Founder of Anduril Industries|
|Known for||Founder of Oculus VR and designer of Oculus Rift|
|Net worth||US$730 million (2016)|
Palmer Freeman Luckey (born September 19, 1992) is an American entrepreneur. He is the founder of Oculus VR and designer of the Oculus Rift, a virtual reality head-mounted display. Luckey ranks #22 on Forbes' 2016 list of America's richest entrepreneurs under 40.
As a child he was homeschooled by his mother, took sailing lessons, and had an intense interest in electronics and engineering. He took community college courses at Golden West College and Long Beach City College beginning at the age of 14 or 15, and started attending courses at California State University, Long Beach in 2010. He wrote and served as Online Editor for the university's student-run newspaper, Daily 49er.
During his childhood and teenage years, he experimented with a variety of complex electronics projects including coilguns, Tesla coils, and lasers. He built a PC gaming "rig" costing tens of thousands of U.S. dollars with an elaborate six-monitor setup.
He had an intense interest in virtual reality (VR), and built an extensive private collection of over 50 different head-mounted displays. To fund these projects, he earned at least US$36,000 by fixing and reselling damaged iPhones and working part-time as a groundskeeper, youth sailing coach, and computer repair technician.
In 2009, he founded the ModRetro Forums with a friend, creating an online community for "portabilization", a hobby that revolves around turning old hardware devices such as game consoles and PCs into self-contained portable units mixing new and old technology.
He later attended California State University, Long Beach, where he majored in journalism. During his time there, he worked as a part-time engineer at the Mixed Reality Lab (MxR) at the Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT) at the University of Southern California as part of a design team for cost-effective virtual reality.
Luckey was frustrated with the inadequacy of the existing head-mounted displays in the market, which suffered from low contrast, high latency, low field-of-view, high cost, and extreme bulk and weight. In response, he started experimenting with his own designs in 2009. He completed his first prototype, called PR1, at age 17 in his parents' garage in 2010, which featured a 90-degree field of view, low latency, and built-in haptic feedback.
Luckey developed a series of prototypes exploring features like 3D stereoscopy, wireless, and extreme 270-degree field-of-view, while also decreasing size and weight of his systems. He shared regular updates on his progress on MTBS3D, a forum frequented by a small number of virtual reality enthusiasts. His 6th-generation unit was named the "Rift", intended to be sold as a do-it-yourself kit on Kickstarter crowdfunding Web site to fellow enthusiasts. He first started Oculus VR in order to facilitate the official launch of the Kickstarter campaign.
John Carmack of id Software, a notable game developer famous for his work on the Doom and Quake videogame series, requested a prototype headset and used it to demonstrate a modified version of id Software's Doom 3: BFG Edition on the device at the Electronic Entertainment Expo 2012. With the resulting attention of thousands of people suddenly drawn to the Rift, Luckey dropped out of university to focus on it full-time.
He showed an early prototype to Brendan Iribe, a former executive of Gaikai and Scaleform Corporation, who described it as "dangling wires and circuit boards and duct tape and hot glue all over the place" and invested "a few hundred thousand" U.S. dollars in the Rift's Kickstarter campaign. Iribe later joined as Oculus VR's CEO, and Michael Antonov (former CTO of Scaleform) joined as chief software architect. Luckey also demonstrated the unit to Valve, and received Kickstarter endorsements from Valve's managing director Gabe Newell and prominent veteran Michael Abrash, now Chief Scientist at Oculus VR. During the Kickstarter campaign, Luckey demonstrated the Rift to gamers and the press at many gaming conventions, including PAX, Gamescom, and QuakeCon 2012.
The Kickstarter campaign was successful, raising US$2.4 million, or 974% of its original target. As a result, Oculus VR expanded, taking on more employees and a larger office space, but Luckey described his day-to-day process as not having "changed all that much," remaining a "slow plod towards making this thing a reality." After launching DK1, Luckey continued to work on all aspects of the business, saying, "I have my hands in everything, from product engineering to game development to marketing," Later, he shifted his focus towards virtual reality input hardware, calling it his "pet project".
Shortly after the acquisition, ZeniMax Media formally filed a lawsuit against Luckey and Oculus VR on May 21, 2014 in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas. The lawsuit contended that Luckey and Oculus used ZeniMax's "trade secrets, copyrighted computer code, and technical know-how relating to virtual reality technology", as provided by John Carmack, then employee of id Software, to develop the Oculus Rift product, and sought for financial damages for breach of contract, copyright infringement, and unfair competition. In its files, ZeniMax revealed it has "invested tens of millions of dollars in research and development" into VR technology, and that because they felt "Oculus and Luckey lacked the necessary expertise and technical know-how to create a viable virtual reality headset", they "sought expertise and know-how from Zenimax".
The jury trial completed on February 2, 2017, with the jury finding that Luckey had violated the NDA he had with ZeniMax, and awarding $500 million to ZeniMax. However, the jury found that Oculus, Facebook, Palmer Luckey, Brendan Iribe, and John Carmack did not misappropriate or steal trade secrets, though ZeniMax continued to publicly assert otherwise. Oculus will have to pay $200 million for breaking the non-disclosure agreement, and additional $50 million for copyright infringement; for false designation of origin charges, Oculus and Luckey will have to pay $50 million each, while Iribe will be responsible for $150 million.
In June 2018, the judge overseeing the case agreed to cut the damages owed by Oculus in half to US$250 million, with an additional US$54 million in interest, while denying Zenimax their request to halt Oculus sales.
In September 2016, it was reported that Luckey had donated $10,000 to Nimble America, a pro-Donald Trump group that ran a billboard campaign displaying 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton with the caption "Too Big To Jail".
This caused a number of developers to temporarily cancel plans to support Oculus, including Scruta Games, which announced it would cancel Oculus's support in their games unless Luckey stepped down. Scruta Games then reversed itself and announced they would resume work on Oculus Touch support, announcing it had "failed to find any evidence backing up the Daily Beast's claim that Luckey paid for hate speech". The developers of Newton VR, Tomorrow Today Labs, said they would not support the Oculus touch as long as Luckey is employed by Oculus. Tomorrow Today Labs also reversed itself, with the company later announcing it would work with Oculus.
In March 2017, Palmer Luckey left Facebook, and stopped his involvement with Oculus VR. No explanation for the departure was given by either party. When asked about Luckey's departure in testimony before the United States Senate in April 2018, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg seemed to confirm that Luckey had been fired, but stated that "it was not because of a political view".
In November 2018, The Wall Street Journal got access to internal Facebook emails which suggested the matter was discussed at the highest levels of the company. Facebook executives, including Zuckerberg, reportedly pressured Luckey to publicly voice support for libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, despite his support for then Republican nominee Donald Trump.
After his firing, Luckey hired an employment lawyer, and together negotiated a payout of at least $100 million, arguing that the company had violated California law for allegedly pressuring the executive to voice support for Johnson and for punishing an employee for political activity.
Facebook's augmented and virtual-reality vice president Andrew Bosworth, who oversees the Oculus division, issued a series of tweets denying that Luckey had been fired for his conservative beliefs, calling the idea "false." Facebook likewise denied Luckey had been fired for supporting Trump stating "We can say unequivocally that Palmer's departure was not due to his political views."
In June 2017, Luckey co-founded the defense technology company Anduril, along with former Palantir Technologies executives Matt Grimm, Trae Stephens and Brian Schimpf, and early Oculus hardware lead Joe Chen. (Anduril, like Palantir, is named after an object from J. R. R. Tolkien's fantasy writings.) In March 2018, Anduril began a pilot program for the U.S. government to detect illegal immigrants attempting to enter Texas from Mexico; the program led to 55 attempted entrants being caught in its first 12 days in operation.
Luckey has become "the face of virtual reality in gaming" and a celebrity among virtual reality enthusiasts; however, he doesn't consider himself to be a celebrity. He has a casual appearance: he is frequently barefoot, and prefers sandals to shoes even at trade shows and events.
Luckey lives in a shared house with several others where they regularly play multiplayer videogames, and he typically wears casual clothes like shorts, T-shirts, Hawaiian shirts and sandals.
The character Keenan Feldspar, played by Haley Joel Osment, who appeared on several episodes of the HBO TV show Silicon Valley in 2017, was speculated by some to be based on Luckey. Like Luckey, Feldspar is a young entrepreneur who became rich after selling his virtual reality technology, and who tends to wear Hawaiian shirts.
In 2014, Luckey was the recipient of Smithsonian Magazine's American Ingenuity Award in the Youth category.
In 2016, Luckey was awarded the Royal Photographic Society Progress medal and Honorary Fellowship, which is awarded in recognition of any invention, research, publication or other contribution which has resulted in an important advance in the scientific or technological development of photography or imaging in the widest sense.
During 2017, Luckey donated to the re-election campaigns of Ted Cruz, Dana Rohrabacher, Steve King, Darrell Issa, Jeff Denham, Mimi Walters, Steve Knight, Kevin McCarthy and Ed Royce, as well as the California Republican Party, the National Republican Congressional Committee, and Mike Pence's Great America Committee.
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