Facebook’s Building 8
In April 2016, Facebook announced the launch of Building 8, a research lab to develop hardware projects in the style of DARPA. The internet behemoth even enlisted former DARPA executive Regina Dugan to head up the division. Dugan, who was part of Google’s advanced projects division before taking on Building 8, has been leading an “all-star roster of tech veterans” since the project started.
Currently, Building 8 has four projects underway, and they touch upon cameras and augmented reality, devices that fly, and even brain-scanning technology. According to Business Insider, the technical lead for each project functions as a mini-CEO for the team, which has two years to produce a proof of concept.
None of these new products have been released yet, but Facebook’s developer conference, FB8, takes place in San Jose, California, on April 18 and 19, and Building 8’s new toys could play a central role at the event, though nothing on the schedule explicitly mentions the division.
A Range of Innovation
With Building 8, Facebook took a risk, stepping into hardware development despite a lack of experience in that realm, and they’re now competing against giants like Google and Apple. The new division is even structured very similarly to Google’s ATAP and X moonshot lab, and teams are conducting research in some of the same areas.
A Facebook that can read your mind has been on Mark Zuckerberg’s mind for a while now, and Building 8’s team includes a neuroscientist, formerly of Johns Hopkins, who was part of the team that developed a mind-controlled prosthetic arm. This scientist now leads the brain-scanning tech project for Building 8.
A third project with medical applications is being led by a Stanford interventional cardiologist with expertise in the development of early stage medical devices. These academic collaborations are also a part of the Facebook long game, which culminated with the launch of SARA, the “Sponsored Academic Research Agreement,” in December 2016.
Building 8 is also taking to the air with the help of Frank Dellaert, a computer vision and robotics expert leading what appears to be a consumer drone project. Dellaert was previously the chief scientist at Skydio, a drone startup, and that company’s former head of hardware, Stephen McClure, has also signed on to Building 8. They are joined by several former GoPro employees. Dugan wrote of Dellaert, “He’s going to help us make things fly … when he’s not guarding the door.”
Building 8 is reportedly planning to jumpstart a fifth project, as yet unspecified and leaderless.
Based on the highly qualified hires for Building 8, Facebook appears to view the division as a long-term investment and is quite serious about manufacturing and selling its own devices — whatever they turn out to be.