Apps: Social Networking

Inside Facebook’s New «Area 404» Lab

Inside Facebook's new Area 404 lab Area 404
Inside Facebook’s New «Area 404» Lab

Inside Facebook’s New «Area 404» Lab

On the first floor of Facebook’s headquarters, located in Menlo Park, Silicon Valley, the Area 404 is hidden behind strong iron doors, which are guarded day and night by security. It is a 22,000-square-foot lab equipped with high-end precision machines. Some of these machines include 9-axis mill-turn lathe, CT scanner, 5-axis water jet, 5-axis vertical milling machine, sheet metal shear, sheet metal folder, CNC fabric cutter, a coordinate measuring machine, scanning electron microscope, and more.

We think of Facebook as a software company, with 1.7 billion monthly users for its core service, and wianother 1.5 billion users or more for Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram. Yet the company’s long-range plans are very much tied to hardware.

Area 404 is a special space dedicated to the design and manufacture of Facebook hardware, such as Aquila Internet connectivity solar drones, Oculus VR headsets, internet-beaming lasers, next-gen servers, and other systems. The lab was just recently opened, and has plenty of space for the experts to begin working in the weeks and months to come. According to Jason Taylor, Facebook’s vice president of infrastructure foundation, there will eventually be a dozen teams working out of Area 404.

The idea behind the laboratory is to provide Facebook engineers with a place to come together to share expertise and work on these costly state-of-the-art machines, thus creating a space for innovative hardware development.

The installed tools can cut through almost anything, including wood and stone. 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. 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.

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. With Area 404, Facebook brings its creations into the physical world.

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