Facebook Inc. created a research lab to develop hardware products and hired a top Google executive to lead the effort, underlining the social-networking company’s broadening technology ambitions. The new group, called Building 8, will be led by Regina Dugan, a former Pentagon research chief who joined Alphabet Inc.’s Google in 2012. It will create hardware products that “advance our mission of connecting the world,” Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post Wednesday.
Facebook will invest “hundreds of people and hundreds of millions of dollars into this effort over the next few years,” he said. Building 8 will help launch a 10-year strategic plan outlined by Mr. Zuckerberg at its annual F8 developer conference this week, including advances in artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, and extending Internet access to billions of people around the world, Mike Schroepfer, Facebook’s chief technology officer, said in an interview..
In a statement, Dr. Dugan said: “Building 8 is an opportunity to do what I love most. tech infused with a sense of our humanity. Audacious science delivered at scale in products that feel almost magic. A little badass. And beautiful.” Dr. Dugan received her Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from the California Institute of Technology and was the first woman to lead the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Pentagon research lab known as Darpa, which she helmed from 2009 to 2012. Later, she joined Motorola, then a division of Google, and helped launch Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects, a research lab for ambitious new products. “I’m excited to have Regina apply DARPA-style breakthrough development at the intersection of science and products to our mission,”
Mr. Zuckerberg said. “This method is characterized by aggressive, fixed timelines, extensive use of partnerships with universities, small and large businesses, and clear objectives for shipping products at scale.” Dr. Dugan’s team at Google is effectively the tech giant’s short-term skunk-works lab, with two-year time limits on many of its projects. That differs from X, an Alphabet unit that works on longer-term bets, such as self-driving cars and delivery drones. As of last year, Dr. Dugan’s lab at Google had about 100 staff and 1,000 nonemployee subject experts working on various projects, including sensor-embedded clothing, modular smartphones and technology that enables mobile devices to effectively “see” in three dimensions. That 3-D-sensing technology, dubbed Project Tango, is being released in some smartphones this year. Dr. Dugan is the latest high-level defection from Google to Facebook. Last year, Facebook hired Mary Lou Jepsen, a high-profile executive from Google’s advanced-projects lab, to work on Oculus. Her background is in display technology. Google on Wednesday thanked Dr. Dugan for her work and said it wished her “the very best.”
At Building 8, which is named for the number of letters in Facebook, Dr. Dugan will build new hardware products that mix the physical and digital worlds, the company said. Mr. Schroepfer said Building 8 will help other Facebook teams on longer-term projects, including its artificial-intelligence research lab and its Oculus virtual-reality division, which recently started shipping its first VR headset. “It’s going to start small but it’s going to grow,” Mr. Schroepfer said. “We are serious about this being a group that will ship products, not just do research.” Building 8 will develop products similar to the virtual-reality camera that captures 360-degree video that Facebook unveiled this week, he said.
Facebook doesn’t plan to sell that camera. Instead, the company released the designs publicly to encourage other companies and developers to build VR cameras and thus make it easier for people to create VR content, which would be a boon to Facebook’s vision for the technology. “I think that’s a really good example of the sorts of projects we should be doing a whole heck of a lot more,” he said. “There are things we need to do in the world that you can only really do with