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Facebook May Showcase It's Secretive Hardware Efforts In April

17 Mar, 2017
Facebook May Showcase It is Secretive Hardware Efforts In April

This time last year, Facebook poached Regina Dugan, an Advanced Technology stalwart from Google. Eyebrows were raised at this left-field hire.

Then, other news Facebook putting together an entire team and setting up what was called Facebook Building 8, had everyone befuddled. Confusion about what such high-end experts from the hardware research and development sector were going to do at Facebook, ran into several hundreds of barrels of print ink.

Shortly, things fell into place and it started becoming apparent that Facebook was going the Google and Microsoft way – using the gains from it’s primary business – digital media, to feed into it’s hardware research and development enterprise to fester and create supporting platforms that may at some point become their own lynchpins.

Building 8 was thus, the site for what could certainly be expected to noteworthy hardware advancements, a mecca of innovation and Facebook’s hotbed of hardware and next-gen ideas.

The initial questions, out of curiosity, were of course, many – What exactly was Facebook going to make a Building 8? When would we see any actual results?

Well, the ear-to-the-ground pipeline now has some details for us.

From what it looks like, Building 8 is quite similar to Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects Group, or ATAP. It is also not quite different from Google X, the lab where Google’s self-driving cars were born.

Even though Building 8 is hardly a year old, it seems like there might already be ready to show the world some teasers of what they have been up to so far. Word is that Building 8 is working on four advanced technology projects, each of which will play an important part in F8 – Facebook’s annual global developer conference coming up in April.

These projects reported span everything from cameras and augmented reality, to science fiction-like brain scanning technology.

Recent developments have suggested that one of these four projects involves cameras and augmented reality. Given that Facebook has been quite publicly and actively working on VR, this would not be a far-fetched move at all.

Another project is expected to revolve around drones – something that rival Snapchat has also been noticed to be experimenting with, not too long ago.
This supposition arise from Facebook’s hiring of Frank Dellaert, a robotics and computer vision expert, who was the chief scientist at Skydio, a small startup that is working on a yet-unreleased drone that can autonomously track a person while navigating through physical space.

Another project might involve brain scanning technology, or so goes the word. The hiring of a former John Hopkins neuroscientist who helped develop a mind-controlled prosthetic arm suggest towards something of the kind being experimented with at Facebook.

One of their projects might have medical applications – or so suggests Facebook’s hiring of an interventional cardiologist from Stanford, with expertise in early-stage medical device development.

The word also is that Building 8 might be developing a fifth unspecified project, and they are currently looking for the right person to lead such a project.

Amongst other noteworthy people who have recently joined Building 8 are Skydio’s former head of hardware, Stephen McClure, and Alex Granieri, who previously worked on Aquila, Facebook’s high-altitude drone designed to beam internet connectivity to the developing world.

What we find really intriguing is that all the project leaders within Building 8 get to work like mini-CEOs, such that they are assigned a timeline, and an idea to develop. Work apparently happens in a manner that these inventions/creations can either be shipped and sold as standalone products, or be spun out into a different part of Facebook.

Facebook’s interest outside of the digital media platform has been imminent for a while now.

We are all by now familiar with the internet.org efforts that the Silicon Valley giant has been making, to take the internet far and wide. Their efforts in this respect are comparable to that of Google, with the Google Loon project. They have also been working with VR lately, having brought on Oculus.

So, it’s now easy to understand that Building 8 is more like an addition to already existing efforts on Facebook’s part to expand into a varied amalgam of tech-related innovations.

The move to hardware is of course a fairly risky one for Facebook to make – a company that otherwise reigns as an internet giant, with its close-to-2-billion user base, and numerous products. What it also needs to be careful of is that it is taking on deep-pocketed competitors like Apple, Google, and upstarts such as Snap, in a cut-throat business defined by thin profit margins and complex logistics.

It would be interesting to see how it goes for them, and what Facebook brings to the table, and if any of these skunk-works actually are able to make a mark in their respective salvos.