R&D

Photos: Facebook built a massive moonshot lab like Google X

Welcome to Area 404.
Welcome to Area 404.
Image: Facebook
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Facebook has long operated by the mantra of “move fast and break things,” and it now operates a massive experimental lab to do just that.

Pulling back the curtain, the world’s largest social network revealed today (Aug. 3) that it’s built a 22,000-square-foot hardware lab that it calls Area 404.

Facebook has long operated labs for teams to create new designs and prototypes, including one in a mail room on its old Palo Alto, California campus to build custom networking switches and data-center hardware. Among the labs it currently operates are an Oculus site in the Seattle area, a hangar for its internet-beaming drone Aquila in the UK, and a laser communication facility in Southern California.

facebook area 404
Area 404 includes 50 workbenches so teams can work collaboratively.
facebook area 404
A five-axis vertical milling machine.

Given the nature of hardware development, teams are usually working in isolated labs. The company instead wanted a huge space that would allow teams to collaborate and iterate quickly on hardware projects. Since what Facebook envisioned didn’t exist, the company started building Area 404, named for the internet error code when a webpage can’t be found, nine months ago.

facebook area 404
An electron microscope.

Area 404 is located on the first floor of building 17 in Facebook’s Menlo Park headquarters. Inside the facility are 50 workbenches and a slew of state-of-the-art machines, including a water jet, lathe, sheet metal shear, milling machine, electronic microscope, and CT scanner. The space sounds like a maker’s paradise, akin to the 27,000 square-foot research-and-development center that Autodesk runs in San Francisco.

facebook area 404
A five-axis water jet.

Facebook hasn’t said how much it spent building Area 404, but the facility will come to play a key part in CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s 10-year roadmap for the company, which includes building next-generation hardware that connects the world.