Facebook Opens Area 404 Hardware Lab For Prototyping Drones, Oculus VR Tech

Engineers working on different projects at Facebook now have a common meeting ground where they can share and exchange ideas, offer each other input, and learn from one another. It's called Area 404, a 22,000-square foot lab located in Facebook's Menlo Park office. It's outfitted with state-of-the-art machine tools and test equipment and has more than 50 workbenches in the main area.

To understand the need for such an area, you first have to recognize that Facebook is much more than just a social networking service where people post political rants and humorous cat videos. Facebook is involved in several high tech projects, things like virtual reality (Oculus Rift), bringing Internet connectivity to remote areas of the world using drones and other technologies, and much more.

Area 404

Like many high tech firms, Facebook separates its hardware engineering teams into separate labs in different locations around the world. It has Oculus facilities in the Seattle area, an Aquila (drone) hanger in the U.K., and a laser communications lab in Southern California, to name just a few.

"These labs have all served their respective teams well, but 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," Facebook explains

Area 404 5-axis water jet
A 5-axis water jet located in Facebook's new Area 404

It was out of that observation that Area 404 was born. The individual teams have been asking for such a place, and now they have it. What's more, it's not just an open space, but a lab filled with complex machinery and specialized equipment. It has a CNC fabric cutter, 5-axis water jet capable of cutting full 10' x 5' sheets of material, 5-axis vertical milling machine that can produce big and complex prototypes accurately, a 9-axis mill-turn lathe, an electron microscope and CT scanner, and more.

"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," Facebbook added.

Things like this are the reason Facebook is succeeding where MySpace failed. It's not just a social network, but an enriched tech firm with access to some of the world's top talent and equipment. With its experts now able to gather in a single location, it will be interesting to see what kinds of projects develop.