Facebook Converges Hardware Labs, Opens Area 404

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Facebook pools hardware teams into one lab to boost efficiency

Facebook, whilst most well-known for its social network, is also pursuing many hardware avenues.

Whether it’s the company’s Aquila drone testing, virtual reality with the Oculus Rift, or pushing infrastructure designs with the Open Compute Project (OCP), Facebook is no stranger to working with hardware.

So it’s no surprise to see Zuckerberg’s company announce this week it has converged all of its hardware development teams under one roof in a new lab called Area 404, located in Menlo Park, San Francisco.

The new 22,000-square-foot lab is fitted with a plethora of machine tools and test equipment, and Facebook claims it can now handle the majority of its modeling, prototyping, and failure analysis in-house, decreasing each iteration of the development cycle from weeks to days.

Shared expertise

facebook2“Over time we started to see that when engineers from different teams came together and shared their expertise, we could make even faster progress on the projects they were working on — engineers in the Connectivity Lab learned from our experts in failure analysis to create high-quality prototypes early in the testing process, the networking team worked with the FSO team on breakthroughs in wireless transmission of data, and so on,” wrote Facebook’s Spencer Burns Mikal Greaves in a blog post.

“We wanted to create more opportunities for these teams to come together; we needed a big, open space to complement our custom labs. 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.”

Area 404

Area 404 has space for all of Facebook’s hardware teams, said the company, including its Connectivity Lab, Oculus, Building 8, and the Infrastructure teams.

The building consists of two main areas: the electrical engineering labs and the prototyping workshops. Facebook’s kitted out the workshops with a variety of tools including 9-axis mill-turn lathes, 5-axis water jets and a range of fabric cutters and measuring machines. There’s even an electron microscope.

“With these state-of-the-art machine tools, testing equipment, and expert model makers, we can collaborate in-house and enable faster and more innovative hardware development,” said Facebook’s engineers.

Area 404 also houses Zuckerberg’s brand new project – Building 8. The Building 8 team is led by ex-Google DARPA lead Regina Dugan, and will focus on new hardware projects that will ‘connect’ the world.

Writing a Facebook status back in April, Facebook CEO Zuckerberg said: “I’m excited to announce that we’ve started a new group at Facebook called Building 8 focused on building new hardware products.

“We’ll be investing hundreds of people and hundreds of millions of dollars into this effort over the next few years. I’m excited to see breakthroughs on our 10 year roadmap in augmented and virtual reality, artificial intelligence, connectivity and other important areas.”

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