Facebook is offering the first extensive look inside its huge new hardware lab housed within its Menlo Park HQ in California. The 22,000-square-foot site will be devoted to the company’s decade-long vision for a connected world.
Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg laid out his firm’s ten-year roadmap at its F8 Developer Conference in April. Beyond social media, his ambitious plans include providing internet to the world, and pouring more resources into virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence.
The new hardware lab will bring together engineers, experts, and employees from Facebook’s disparate departments (who have, until now, been housed in their own team labs) with the aim of sharing proficiency to boost productivity.
Area 404, as it is known, will see members of Facebook’s Connectivity Lab, Oculus, Building 8 (a top-secret R&D wing headed by former DARPA director Regina Dugan), and infrastructure teams collaborate on projects in the same space.
Due to its focus on hardware, Area 404 has been decked out with state-of-the-art machinery. Its inhabitants will have at their disposal an electron microscope and CT scanner that can produce 3D, X-ray images, a 5-axis vertical milling machine, capable of producing large, complex geometry, and a powerful 5-axis water jet that can cut through thick sheets of aluminium, steel, and granite.
The tools will be used on Facebook’s biggest projects, including its OpenCellular device, aimed at bringing mobile connectivity to the developing world. Research and development for the company’s internet-delivering drone Aquila will also take place inside Area 404. Additionally, Facebook intends to use the site to build new VR hardware for Oculus, and its 360-degree camera. The software on both OpenCellular and Facebook Surround 360 may be open-sourced, but the hardware will be built internally.
“We needed a big, open space to complement our custom labs,” states Spencer Burns, a CNC model maker at Facebook. “So we built one, and we call it Area 404 — named for our teams wanting a space just like this one, but one wasn’t found; now it’s found, and we lovingly refer to the space as Area 404.”