Inside Facebook’s New «Area 404» Lab
On the first floor of Facebook building in Menlo Park, Silicon Valley, the Area 404 is hidden behind strong iron doors guarded day and night by the company’s watch. It’s a 22,000-square-foot lab equipped with few high-end giant precision machines, such as a 9-axis mill-turn lathe, a CT scanner, a 5-axis water jet, a 5-axis vertical milling machine, a sheet metal shear and a sheet metal folder, a CNC fabric cutter, a coordinate measuring machine, a scanning electron microscope and more.
We think of Facebook as of a software company, with 1.7 billion monthly users for its core service and with another 1.5 billion users or more for Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram. Yet the company’s long-range plans are very much tied to hardware.
The Area 404, this special space, is dedicated to design and manufacture Facebook hardware, such as Aquila Internet connectivity solar drones, Oculus VR headsets, Internet-beaming lasers, next-gen servers, and other systems. But the lab is so new, the are plenty of space where experts will be working in a few weeks or months to come, as the new hardware labe has just opened. According to Jason Taylor, Facebook’s vice president of infrastructre foundation, there will eventually be a dozen teams working out of Area 404.
The idea behind the laboratory to provide Facebook engineers a place to come together to share expertise and work on these costly state-of-the-art machine tools, enabling thus innovative hardware development
The installed tools can cut through wood, stone and just about anything. A 3-axis milling machine allows Facebook to make prototypes of propellers for Aquila, the connectivity drone. Another machine can bend sheet metal and a water jet machine puts out 60,000 PSI of high-pressure water mixed with an abrasive.
Facebook designed Area 404 from the ground up, and the lab was modeled off the company’s present and future needs. In fact, the problem is that Facebook was plagued by delays whenever it had to outsource prototyping and testing of its gadgets, so it makes sense to build a dedicated laboratory within Facebook’s Menlo Park headquarters. Construction began in November 2015, under the supervision of Facebook’s Mechanical And Power Manager Mikal Greaves. When prototypes are ready for scaled production, they will be sent elsewhere for mass production.
Well, in fact, hardware isn’t a new endeavor for Facebook, as the company has an Oculus hub in Seattle and an airplane hangar in the UK for its Aquila drone. But with Area 404, Facebook brings its creations in the physical world.
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