Facebook quietly killed its Building 8 skunkworks unit as it reshuffles its cutting-edge experiments and hardware (FB)
- Facebook quietly killed off Building 8, its secretive skunkworks unit, after the launch of its Portal video-chat device.
- Its hardware team now lives under a new Portal organization, and its more experimental projects have been moved to Facebook Reality Labs, Business Insider has learned.
- Facebook Reality Labs is working on far-out tech like brain-computer interfaces and ways to “hear” through your skin.
- Building 8 was launched in 2016 as part of Facebook’s attempts to break into consumer hardware.
The super-secretive organization was inspired by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and billed itself as a unit dedicated to building “new, category-defining consumer hardware products.” In its buzzy heyday, it worked on far-out projects like brain-scanning tech and skin sensors. It was a moonshot factory, in other words, in the same vein as Google’s X.
But things have now changed. Some of its most experimental projects have been shunted over to a new division, Facebook Reality Labs, and its hardware segment has been rebranded as Portal following the launch of Facebook’s home video-chat device.
The Building 8 brand, meanwhile, has quietly been killed off completely, a spokesperson told Business Insider.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Building 8 in 2016. He billed it as a bold bet on hardware for Facebook, which has never managed to parlay its success in the software space into physical consumer goods like Apple and Google. It was led by Regina Dugan, a former DARPA director and Google exec, who left Facebook in January after less than two years at the company.
“I’m excited to announce that we’ve started a new group at Facebook called Building 8 focused on building new hardware products to advance our mission of connecting the world,” Zuckerberg wrote in a post when it launched.
“We’ll be investing hundreds of people and hundreds of millions of dollars into this effort over the next few years. I’m excited to see breakthroughs on our 10 year roadmap in augmented and virtual reality, artificial intelligence, connectivity and other important areas.”
In October, those ambitions finally came to fruition with the launch of Portal, a touch-screen video-chat device that lets users them call their friends and consume media using Facebook’s software.
With the launch, Building 8’s executives and hardware-focused teams transferred to a newly formed Portal team — and Building 8 was shuttered, a previously unreported development.
Rafa Camargo, who was made the head of Building 8 when Dugan left, was appointed VP of Portal when it officially launched. Head of product Itai Vonshak, director of marketing Nick Fell, and head of device software Viresh Rustagi also all made the shift.
Goodbye Building 8, hello Portal
Some employees still advertise themselves on LinkedIn as working for Building 8, and there are still some open job advertisements for positions at Building 8 — but this is because they haven’t been updated yet, a spokesperson said.
Other signs of the unit’s newness abound. Building 8’s official Careers page on Facebook’s website has been killed — but Portal’s jobs page uses all its old photos.
Any other unannounced hardware projects being developed by Facebook now live under the Portal organization — excluding virtual or augmented reality efforts that would be part of Oculus, the company’s AR/VR unit.
With Building 8’s dissolution, its more experimental efforts have been spun out into another new group: Facebook Reality Labs.
Facebook Reality Labs was formed in May, prior to the launch of Portal, though at the time it was viewed as a rebranded Oculus Labs (Facebook’s earlier AR/VR research efforts). It now holds tentpole Building 8 projects like the brain-computer interface team, which attempts to build computers that can meld with human minds. It’s being led by Michael Abrash, a game-industry veteran and legendary programmer.
The haptics team, which is working on tech to help people “hear” through their skin, has also been transferred, according to its members’ LinkedIn profiles, and healthcare projects that were once part of Building 8 have also been moved out.
Some of Facebook’s other experimental research, like its work on biologically inspired “soft robotics,” is also part of Facebook Reality Labs.
Facebook says it is still working on many of the same projects, albeit with a different structure. In an email, Facebook spokesperson Lisa Auslen said: “Building 8 was the early name of the team building consumer hardware at Facebook. Building 8 is part of Facebook’s AR/VR organization. Now that we’re shipping, it’s the Portal team. And Rafa Camargo is still leading the team; that has not changed.”
“We also unified research looking at longer terms projects under one team, which became Facebook Reality Labs, which is also part of our AR/VR organization. This includes research projects like the Brain Computer Interface.” She said that the restructuring did not entail any layoffs.
Zuckerberg’s vision may still be in place — but the reshuffle means it’s playing out in a very different way.
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