palmer luckey oculus rift palmertech

Palmer Luckey, who also goes by PalmerTech online, is the creator of the forthcoming Oculus Rift head mounted display and genuine VR nerd (I use that term endearingly). Luckey, who claims to have the largest private HMD collection in the world, remains humble even after his Oculus Rift HMD project spawned a Kickstarter which reeled in $2.4 million. For the most part Luckey has been somewhat reclusive, buried under important work as Oculus LLC approaches the launch of the Oculus Rift developer kit. While I’m very interested in the Oculus Rift, I also wanted to learn more about Luckey himself. Join me for a Q&A with the creator of the Oculus Rift.

palmer luckey palmertech oculus rift interview

Q&A With Palmer Luckey, Creator of the Oculus Rift

Ben: Where are you currently located?

Palmer Luckey: Long Beach, California. Best place in the world, in my opinion!

Ben: Have you had any prior jobs before Oculus LLC?

Palmer Luckey: Lots of freelance computer and phone repair, worked at a fancy yacht club as a sailing coach for rich kids, spent a few years doing boat repair and maintenance, quit, bummed around for a few months to really focus on virtual reality, got a job at an Army Affiliate Research Center, the ICT Mixed Reality lab, and left on good terms to start Oculus LLC.

Ben: Did you attend university?

Palmer Luckey: Took some community college classes between Golden West City College and Long Beach City College, then went on to CSULB. They were a pain in the ass to deal with, but that is too long of a story to go into right now. I ended up getting more than half my units, then dropped out. It remains to be seen when/if I will go back.

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Ben: What are some of your hobbies?

Palmer Luckey: Gaming, diode and gas based laser systems, high voltage weaponry, console modification/portabilizing, sailing, and of course, virtual reality!

Ben: Do you have any siblings?

Palmer Luckey: Three younger sisters.

Ben: How have parents/siblings reacted to your interest in VR and how you are now turning it into a career?

Palmer Luckey: My sisters now brag about me to their friends instead of telling them how strange I am. Well, maybe a combination of both. Parents are happy I am doing what I love, maybe not so happy that all those videogames they told me were a waste of time ended up being as important as I always told them they would be!

Ben: What is your favorite game console?

Palmer Luckey: In terms of currently most used, PC. In terms of “favorite”, probably the GP2X. It was crazy in its time, an open source Linux based handheld game console with full Divx support, TV out, and fantastic emulation capabilities. It was emulating GBA games back when the GBA was still a modern console!

Ben: Favorite genre?

Palmer Luckey: It would be a tie between FPS and old school 2D RPGs. People tell me I need to get with the times, though… I am trying to get into Pay to Win Social Streaming Mobile games (PTWSSM) games, those seem to be getting more popular.

Ben: Favorite game?

Palmer Luckey: Chrono Trigger, without a doubt. VR Chrono Trigger would make my life.

Ben: What games have you been playing lately (assuming you’ve had any time!)?

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Palmer Luckey: Well, quite a bit of Doom 3 and Hawken. I have also been brushing up on my Team Fortress 2 skills lately, I used to play all the time, I am fitting in few matches here and there when I can.

Ben: If you could choose one already-launched game to play with perfect VR (ultra high resolution HMD, 180 degree FoV, 0 latency, full body tracking, etc.), which would it be?

Palmer Luckey: That is a tough one… if it was just for me, then probably Fallout 3. If it were accessible to everyone, I would say Second Life. Old, sure, but it has a framework that would allow for it to truly become a Second Life for millions of people.

Ben: Can you tell me a bit about your HMD collection? What units are your favorite?

Palmer Luckey: A lot of my HMDs are in a storage unit, not enough room in my apartment for all of them! I started collecting with the naive hope that I would be able to find an HMD that suited my needs, and kept collecting because I realized I needed to know as much about HMDs as I could before making a good go on my own. My favorite HMDs are my Fakespace Push, my Visionics LVES, and my (heavily modified) Sony HMZ-T1.

Ben: At what point did you realize that the HMD of your dreams was not on the market and that you’d have to make it yourself?

Palmer Luckey: When I got ahold of a Virtual Research V8. It had a 60 degree field of view, and while it was great, it was nowhere near what I wanted; 60 degrees is pretty high for an HMD, and I knew from looking at spec sheets that I was not going to find many things that were better.

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Ben: Did you have any expectation that the Oculus Rift would take off as it has?

Palmer Luckey: No expectations, maybe, but I certainly hoped so! Our team was debating what our Kickstarter goal should be, internally, and I was the one who pushed it down to $250k. If we would have barely met that goal, I would have considered the Rift a success.

Ben: After head mounted displays, what is the next big challenge that needs to be overcome for even more immersive VR?

Palmer Luckey: Haptics, definitely haptics. Good haptics that are properly integrated with motion controls are a big challenge, but the results will be worthwhile. Sound is another big challenge, but that is not so much a VR specific challenge.

Ben: Do you have any interest in augmented reality?

Palmer Luckey: I love AR! The concept, at least. I am a field of view junkie, and there is no hardware out there that does AR concepts justice.

Ben: I read on MTBS3D that you’ve got a WizDish for testing — any thoughts?

Palmer Luckey: I need to spend more time testing it before I go too far, but my initial impressions are good. It will be a while before people want to play games on their feet instead of on their couch, but maybe we will get there someday.

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Ben is the world's most senior professional analyst solely dedicated to the XR industry, having founded Road to VR in 2011—a year before the Oculus Kickstarter sparked a resurgence that led to the modern XR landscape. He has authored more than 3,000 articles chronicling the evolution of the XR industry over more than a decade. With that unique perspective, Ben has been consistently recognized as one of the most influential voices in XR, giving keynotes and joining panel and podcast discussions at key industry events. He is a self-described "journalist and analyst, not evangelist."
  • He turns more and more into an actual person, not a VR robot from the future. Very nice interview!

    • Ben Lang

      Thanks Andreas. I too was afraid he might be a robot from the future. Fortunately my fears are alleviated.

      • Carl Kenner

        No, Palmer Luckey’s not a VR robot from the future… you two are confusing him with John Carmack:

  • Bruce

    This guy is not only a legend in the making because of his amazing contribution to Virtual Reality which will possibly single handedly create a whole renaissance in VR gaming. But also because of his passion for all cutting edge computer gaming technology. I also heard he still owns an Amiga 2000. If that isn’t legendary enough for you I don’t know what is anymore!

  • william epps

    I haven’t heard Palmer Luckey, Abrash, Carmack or anyone address the concerns of these medical researchers. Certainly they wouldn’t let thier enthusiasm hurt people would they? They are heroes after all

    The effect of VR depends primarily on the amount of time and frequency that a user is exposed to it, as well as the quality and structure of the VR device. Sensory conflict theory proposes that the vestibulo-ocular reflex (VOR) is not in agreement. The theory argues that the eyes are receiving information which would indicate to the brain that there should be a corresponding vestibular response, which is absent, and therefore there is a conflict between the data being processed by the brain. Other discrepancies the brain must compensate for are latency and drag in the field being viewed. The argument is that VOR adaptation will occur, while in the short term the flocculus contributes most significantly to the correction, more long term effects of motor learning indicate changes made in the synaptic weighing of synapses on vestibular neurons. Some researchers believe there is new axon growth that incurs permanent brain damage in extreme cases of prolonged exposure.

    • hJ

      ‘Sensory conflict theory’ aka motion sickness. This isn’t exactly new or unstudied. It’s something that humans have been dealing with for thousands of years.

      • william epps

        Humans however have not had VR devices for thousands of years. Palmer Luckey over at VRGeeks has made the claim that practice makes perfect, like a pilot who constantly trains. I suppose he is saying the more you use the Oculus, the better you will “adapt” However axon growth of this “adaptation” to long term use of an Oculus type device hasn’t been studied much that I am aware of. Medical Researchers who are experts in this field say it may lead to permanent brain damage and axon formation. I would hate for 10 years from now, we have damaged even 1 human childs brain because everyone rushed in.

        Perhaps Palmer is wrong or misinformed or just totally ignorant, perhaps long term use of the Oculus will cause axon formation that is permanently brain damaging. There just hasn’t been enough research in this field. David in Snowcrash jumped in like a fool, because fools rush in. He went to the hospital. Hiro thought the second mouse gets the cheese, and waited. My brain and the brain of my children are precious to me, and until I see more medical research that these VR devices won’t cause permanent brain damage, I can wait. I would hate for Palmer to face even 1 lawsuit that ruins him because some child is hurt because they said hey Palmer said practice makes perfect, lets use this device 20 hours a day 7 days a week so we can get over the motion sickness. Fail :( If you have studies that show long term high FOV VR use is not a medical concern, please present them.

        • Bruce

          Fighter pilots have been training with lesser VR technologies since the late 20th century. Does the US government condone brain damage causing simulations for its top soldiers and pilots? Hardly. This is not unlike how many so called experts warned about too much television for kids and how it would warp minds and create a whole generation of mentally challenged children because prolonged TV may cause irreversible brain damage.

          Hell I grew up with TV and I am smarter for it than most generations before me in my community. The Oculus won’t be some brain disease causing product. There is a reason they are not releasing it until at least late 2013/2014. There are many things to test and correct before a commercial version. However VR units have been sold by many other companies since the 90s and none as sophisticated as this one. These claims are unfounded, and time will tell as with most new tech.

        • hJ

          william epps :
          Humans however have not had VR devices for thousands of years.

          No, but the concerns about VR in your link are based on existing theory regarding sensory conflict irrespective of their source. Based on that, in my mind, the question isn’t “Is VR healthy?” but, “Is there a good reason to think that VR’s motion sickness is somehow a special case?” If VR is a special case and results in completely different long term damage compared to, say, being a lifetime sailor or fisherman, then it would require an entirely new theory to support that.

        • Hi William.
          You are right to be concerned about child safety and development but there is another relevant fact to consider.
          My 12 year old daughter can’t try my demos because her head is too small for the Vuzix glasses. I’ve ordered the Rift but very much doubt she will be able to use them either.

  • Great scoop! I had no idea Palmer had three sisters AND high voltage weaponry! That is a lot to handle haha.

  • alexpez

    Do sailors get VOR adaptation and new axon growth from being below deck? Is that classed as brain damage?

    I’d love to see some evidence either way. Without evidence, its all supposition.

    • alexpez

      Google turns up and

      “In two studies of crew of small seagoing vessels, Gordon et al showed that short durations of MdD are quite common. In their first study of 234 crew (average age of 20.5 years), 171 (73%) experienced MdD. Of these, 127 experienced MdD immediately upon returning to land with an additional 42 experiencing MdD within 6 hours.7 In 159 subjects (93%), the symptoms lasted 6 hours or less and all were asymptomatic within 24 hours. There was no difference in the susceptibility to MdD based on experience at sea, but there was a direct correlation with susceptibility to seasickness.”

      So it would appear that people commonly suffer from this when they leave a train/plane/cruiseliner/ship/car etc for a small amount of time and are usually asymptomatic shortly thereafter.

      MdDS that lasts for longer periods of time is considered by the mddsfoundation website to be “rare”.

  • dead

    He seems like a really cool guy and I like how he is going with his own interests rather than where the money is at.
    This is what we need to get a true technological leap rather than repeating what is tried and true and a sure cash flow.

    Also I think most people as interested in VR as a lot of us won’t care about the medical risks involved.

  • John Mink

    What a great 1-up interview! Thank you! I wish you had been able to address one very important issue for Oculus Rift programming content which is precisely the Zune compatability complex. Have you noticed that no new developers create software or even hardware (in this case attatchments, for hardware on hardware not viable)? This is mostly because of an old argument about the zune lots of developers had with microsoft about rehash-user reware support. The lack of this feature has created support compatability, ending in CCS (compatibility complex syndrome). The proof is in the pudding: