The all-star roster of tech veterans that Facebook has been hiring and bringing together one year ago is quietly making progress, steadily expanding the size of its ranks and the hardware prototypes it is developing. The group, known as Building 8, currently has four simultaneous projects underway, spanning everything that may sound or look like science fiction to many, but are on the way to become consumer products. Facebook is already planning the coming-out party for its impending family of gadgets, laying the groundwork to drum up marketing interest and sell the products when the time is right.
Building 8 has yet to unveil any of its products, but people familiar with the group said the hardware group is expected to play a key role in Facebook’s developer conference this week, where CEO Mark Zuckerberg gave his 10-year vision for the company last year. The move to hardware however, is an ambitious and risky adventure for a social media platform that reigns as an internet superpower thanks to its almost 2 billion users. With virtually no experience in the world of hardware, Facebook is taking on more deep-pocketed competitors like Apple, Google, and even rising stars like Snap, in a business that is looking more cut-throat than Wall Street and defined by thin profit margins and complex logistics.
This is why Facebook is not treating Building 8 like a hobby. An analysis of Building 8’s recent hires and job listings shows an ambitious effort to create and sell millions of consumer hardware units, from a supply chain outpost in Hong Kong to a planned retail push and customer call center operation. Recent hires point to the possible development of a commercial drone. Another project involves brain-scanning technology and is led by a former John Hopkins neuroscientist who helped develop a mind-controlled prosthetic arm. Yet another project could have medical applications, as it’s led by an interventional cardiologist from Stanford with expertise in early-stage medical device development. The group is also planning to jumpstart a fifth unspecified project, and is currently looking for the right person to lead it.
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Building 8 is structured almost the same to Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects Group (GATAP), and is also similar to X, the “moonshot” lab where Google’s self-driving cars were first created. At Building 8, technical project leads are treated like mini-CEO’s and given two-year deadlines to prove a concept that will either be shipped and sold or spun out into a different part of Facebook, which also owns WhatsApp and Instagram, and possibly connect it to its failed Oculus VR project. The job listings on Facebook also indicate plans to leverage outside partnerships to sell its products. One responsibility for the partnership lead position is to “identify unique and inspiring collaborations that will drive innovation, impact social good, and inspire consumer loyalty and trust.” Shipping and selling consumer hardware to millions of people will definitely represent a new challenge for Facebook.