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Plotting a comeback with a virtual border

The Silicon Valley star is back with a bang with surveillance and self-driving car technology

Nick Wingfield 

Luckey, 24, lives in a 78-year-old mansion with a group of friends
Luckey, 24, lives in a 78-year-old mansion with a group of friends

was the kind of wunderkind Silicon Valley venerates. When he was just 21, he made an overnight fortune selling his start-up, a company called that made virtual-reality gear, to for $2 billion in 2014.

But the success story took a sideways turn this year when Luckey was pressured to leave months after news spread that he had secretly donated to an organisation dedicated to spreading anti-Hillary Clinton internet memes. While Luckey slammed inaccuracies in the articles, the reports proved toxic in the tech industry, where hostility to President Trump is as pervasive as overpriced coffee.

The spokesman for a new medium — — briefly became an exile. Now Luckey is back. Unburdened by a big company’s culture, he’s more freely sharing his politics on social media.  And he has a new start-up in the works, a company that is developing surveillance that could be deployed on borders between countries and around military bases, according to three familiar with the plan who asked for anonymity because it’s still confidential. They said the investment fund run by Peter Thiel, a adviser to Trump, planned to support the effort.

The new business is the latest note in the charmed and very unconventional life of Luckey. He stood to receive hundreds of millions of dollars from the sale of to Facebook, he said in court in January during a trial involving a dispute between and a publisher.  He has accumulated a lot of toys with that money.  Luckey, 24, lives in a 78-year-old mansion in affluent Woodside, Calif., with a group of friends. One of his roommates is his girlfriend, Nicole Edelmann, who has received attention for her support of GamerGate, a loose online movement that has sought to push back against social progressivism in video games.

Luckey became a tech icon for reviving interest in virtual reality, his politics burst into view in September when The Daily Beast published an article saying he had quietly funded a pro-Trump nonprofit, Nimble America. After the article ran, Luckey said on that he was sorry his actions were hurting He said he had given the nonprofit $10,000 because he believed it had “fresh ideas on how to communicate with young voters through the use of several billboards.”  He was gone from by March.  Soon after, he was working on his next start-up idea: The company plans to use a found in self-driving cars called lidar — shorthand for light detection and ranging — as well as infrared sensors and cameras to monitor borders for illegal crossings, according to the three familiar with the plan.

©2017 The New York Times