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Facebook's Area 404 Is a Melting Pot for Hardware Research

Facebook's Area 404 Is a Melting Pot for Hardware Research
Image credit: Facebook

Facebook is consolidating some of its hardware research, currently performed around the world, into a single 22,000-square-foot lab in Palo Alto, Calif.

Named Area 404 in a nod to hardware engineers who were searching for a space to collaborate with their worldwide colleagues but couldn't find one, it will handle the majority of Facebook's modeling, prototyping and failure analysis.

Area 404 is the latest indicator that Facebook is set on a path that will take it far from its roots as a social media platform. The new space offers tools familiar to those who have worked in other fabrication facilities, like milling machines, lathes, fabric cutters and microscopes.

Some of those conventional tools will be dedicated to implementing Facebook's rather unconventional plans to bring Internet access to currently unconnected communities worldwide. Some of the development and testing for the company's OpenCellular access points will move to Area 404, as will research to support Aquila, Facebook's giant Internet-beaming drone.

Area 404 is focused mostly on building computing hardware, some of which is designed to support software that will ultimately show up in the company's apps. That includes developing modular sleds and shelving for the servers that power Big Sur, Facebook's artificial intelligence research.

The facility will also host teams developing new virtual reality hardware and technology, including the Surround 360 camera rig and prototypes of future Oculus VR headsets.

Beyond its lathes and milling machines, Area 404 will act as a kind of nerve center for Facebook's aspirations. By consolidating research in one place, the company that started in a Harvard dorm room is flexing its design muscle, and showing it isn't afraid to consolidate research in its core products with out-of-left-field initiatives.


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