Facebook opens a giant hardware lab to build its future

Area 404 will develop VR, networking technology and more.

Hardware will play a big role in Facebook's future between Oculus' VR headsets, internet drones and open source networking gear, and the social network wants to give that technology the best start possible. It just opened Area 404 (yes, a play on "site not found"), a massive 22,000 square foot facility at its Menlo Park headquarters that will handle the brunt of Facebook's hardware "modeling, prototyping and failure analysis." Unlike some labs, it's not segmented into product-specific divisions -- instead, there are only electrical engineering and prototyping workshop sections. It's designed to encourage cross-team collaboration that could lead to discoveries that might not happen in an isolated group.

The prototyping half includes some heavy-duty equipment that you'd be more likely to see in a factory than an internet veteran's campus. It touts lathes, milling machines, water jets and other devices that can cut or shape everything from metal to stone. There's also a CT scanner and an electron microscope to detect miniscule flaws.

A lab like this was really just a matter of time, since Facebook only has so much room to develop hardware in its existing facilities without looking for outside help. Still, it's a telltale sign of how much the company has changed. The days of Facebook focusing strictly on social services are long gone -- this is a general tech company where physical products are equally important to its future.