On Wednesday, Facebook unveiled its’ 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 head Regina Dugan — a former Pentagon research chief who joined Alphabet Inc.’s Google in 2012 and who helped shape such Google initiatives as Project Tango (3-D mapping capability for mobile devices), Project Ara (tools for building modular smartphones) and smart fabrics wired with electronics — will head a research-and-product-development group called Building 8 considered vital to Facebook’s 10-year technology road map.
She reports to Facebook Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer.
Dugan is known for her unique ability to bridge the gap between high-profile research in advanced technologies and practical product development incorporating those technologies.
According to Facebook, Dugan will work towards developing “new hardware products to advance our mission of connecting the world.”
Facebook is planning to invest hundreds of millions of dollars into Building 8 to develop hardware mostly complementing its present efforts in the field of artificial intelligence and virtual reality.
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.
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 hardware, and you’ve got to kind of build them yourself — even if it’s just building the reference design for others.”