What’s Area 404 For?

Danielle Beurteaux

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that Facebook is more than a way to keep abreast of your middle school friends’ fascinating life updates.

The tech giant does so much more. And it’s just opened a new facility to develop what will possibly be the next greatest thing in tech.

Facebook’s new Area 404 – named after the all-too-familiar error code – sees the company bringing R&D back in-house, large format-style.

The 22,000 square feet inside the company’s Menlo Park, Calif., location is full of lab and fabrication space and tools. It’s an ambitious DIYer’s dream come true. There are things you’d expect, like drills, computer numeric control (CNC) machines, a lathe, etc. There’s also cool stuff like an electron microscope with 10,000x magnification and a CT scanner.

The company is aiming to build “next-generation hardware.” The problem really came to light when Facebook’s own engineers were trying to develop projects but couldn’t access the tools to do so. Many of Facebook’s initiatives were done in isolated teams and relied on exterior resources. Recognizing that an in-house collaborative model was a better choice – for access, sharing ideas, and simple practicality – it dedicated a space that’s just under half a football field.

Collaboration is really a driver for this project. One reason the company dedicated so much physical space is because it wants to give hardware engineers who are usually located in different places somewhere to work together in person. What with projects like Oculus in one location and Aquila in another, the company realized the fragmented nature of the work being done wasn’t necessarily the best way to innovate.

Another reason is efficiency. Facebook realizes that doing much of this work in its own lab, instead of outsourcing to outside vendors, cuts down on the time to develop. Mark Zuckerberg had already announced during the F8 developers conference talk last spring that some of its focus will be on developing tech for drones, VR, AR, satellites, and AI. Like the solar-powered Aquila drone, which flew a first test flight last month.

And Facebook’s also on-trend. Companies are realizing that cross-functional collaboration is key to creating innovative products and doing it quickly, and then getting them to market fast. In Facebook’s case, its hardware projects have plenty of competition as money pours into VR and AI tech and other future tech, although its goal isn’t necessarily to sell its hardware projects – Oculus aside – but to make them available as part of the tech ecosystem.

But making the switch isn’t easy, according to McKinsey – it means moving away from the traditional philosophy of siloed work into something a bit more adaptable.

Facebook is betting on proximity to speed innovation. It will be interesting to see what this meeting of minds creates.

The fourth industrial revolution – hyperconnectivity – is here, and there’s no going back. Learn more about Live Business: The Digitization of Everything.

Image: Facebook

Danielle Beurteaux

About Danielle Beurteaux

Danielle Beurteaux is a New York–based writer who covers business, technology, and philanthropy. Her work has appeared in The New York Times and on Popular Mechanics, CNN, and Institutional Investor's Alpha, among other outlets.