The company that is building the virtual border wall has a new version of its secret, fast-flying drones – and a corresponding new contract with customs and border protection. Anduril, a young defense-friendly tech company from the founder of Oculus, received $ 36 million from Customs and Border Protection this month for its AI-powered autonomous surveillance towers.
Anduril thrived over its short lifespan in the Trump era and received surprising interest from defense agencies as the company only existed for three years. In July, CBP Anduril awarded $ 25 million for an earlier set of surveillance towers. The agency plans to implement 200 towers in an ongoing relationship with the contractor valued at more than $ 200 million by 2022.
The quirky company is fast moving on with its hardware innovations, which makes sense for a company founded by Palmer Luckey, the controversial figure who led consumer VR through Oculus. Luckey, a big Trump booster in tech, attracted a lot of talent from the now Facebook-owned VR company when he broke up with his new company. The company has also amassed a number of former employees of Palantir, founded by Peter Thiel, who has expanded its own federal contract business and is currently going public.
While the company remained completely calm in the early launch days, it has been researching its drone capabilities, especially over the last year. Anduril has previously given a press push to launch a counter-UAS drone called “Anvil”
Ghost drones are able to stay in the air for long distances and communicate what they see to an AI-powered central nervous system. They combine data with Anduril’s watchtowers and other hardware and feed it back to the company’s Lattice software platform, which shows everything of interest. In the case of CBP, this looks like a system that autonomously identifies someone crossing the US border and sends a push alert to border officials.
Ghost 4 is the latest version of the Ghost drone with a flight time of 100 minutes and an “almost noiseless acoustic signature” that makes detection difficult. The Ghost 4 drones apparently have Anduril’s Lattice AI software on board, which they can use to operate and identify potential targets in locations with little connectivity or in “contested” areas. With the new version of the Ghost drone, an operator can command a group of Ghost drones to form a swarm that collects data on many devices.
According to the company, the Ghost 4 is designed for a range of mission types, including “aerial intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, cargo delivery, opposing force intrusions, signaling and electronic warfare.” With the modular, customizable design of the system, Anduril continues to cast a wide network, although it currently has mostly received orders for perimeter and border surveillance.
The company began working with CBP in 2018 through pilot programs in Texas and San Diego. By the following year, Anduril had formalized its relationship on the US southern border, with a number of its watchtowers operating in the CBP sector in San Diego, Order More in Texas, and a new pilot program that included a cold-weather variant of its hardware in locations on the northern border testing in Montana and Vermont.
In July, Anduril announced that the company had raised $ 200 million from investors including Andreessen Horowitz and Thiel’s Founders Fund. This has increased the valuation to around 2 billion US dollars in three years, ”said Brian Schimpf, CEO of Anduril.
The Ministry of Defense I’ve been researching use cases with an earlier version of the Ghost drone, and it is clear the company is looking to grow this emerging business. It’s not that far: Anduril signed a $ 13.5 million contract last year to surround Marine Corps bases in Arizona, Japan, and Hawaii with a “virtual“ digital fortress, ”and has talent specially recruited to work with the military. Now that the company’s work is set as an item on the Homeland Security budget, the door is open to Anduril to seal the deal for even more lucrative defense work.