Facebook has created a 2000 square metre hardware lab in Silicon Valley called Area 404, “named for our teams wanting a space just like this one, but [until now] one wasn't found”.
Area 404 is designed to act as a meeting place for Facebook’s various hardware engineering teams.
Until now, they’ve been squirrelled away in their own respective hardware bunkers.
But after observing what happens when engineers from different project teams came together informally, Facebook decided to create a space they could co-habit and learn from each other.
“Hardware engineering traditionally happens behind closed doors, in isolated labs,” Facebook said in a blog post.
“We fell into this pattern ourselves early on at Facebook, as we opened individual hardware labs to support new teams. Some of our first labs — including one in a repurposed mail room, in our old Palo Alto headquarters — were built for our infrastructure teams to prototype custom racks, servers, storage systems, and network switches for our data centres.
“As new, hardware-oriented teams like Oculus started to form, we built additional labs for those teams to design, prototype, and test. Today we have hardware labs all over the world.
“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.”
Area 404 has been fitted out with a mix of machine tools and test equipment.
Physically, it is divided into two main areas: electrical engineering labs and prototyping workshops.
“With this new space, we can now handle the majority of our modelling, prototyping, and failure analysis in-house, decreasing each iteration of the development cycle from weeks to days,” Facebook said.
“Even more important, the space has room for all teams, with more than 50 workbenches in the main area.
“Connectivity Lab, Oculus, Building 8, and our Infrastructure teams can now work collaboratively in the same space, learning from one another as they build.”
Though Facebook is predominately known for its main social media product, the company is also a prolific hardware producer.
The company produces its own whitebox IT infrastructure, and has made the designs available through the Open Compute project.
It is also exploring ways to bring the internet to underserviced parts of the world, which means building everything from wireless hardware to a fleet of drones it hopes will “beam internet access down to people from the sky”.
The company is a major player in virtual reality having bought Oculus VR.
And it recently set up a hardware R&D venture called Building 8 that is being run by a former director of DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) in the United States, which is renowned for its robotics research among other technology domains.