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Friday 29 September 2023 Dublin: 13°C
# Top Secret
Inside Area 404 - Facebook's heavy-duty tech lab that Zuckerberg isn't even allowed enter
It’s where all Facebook’s hardware prototypes are made.

Mark Zuckerberg hacking Chris Ratcliffe / PA Images Facebook's new hardware manufacturing facility is off-limits for Mark Zuckerberg. Chris Ratcliffe / PA Images / PA Images

FACEBOOK CEO AND all-around wunderkind Mark Zuckerberg can do a lot of things.

But Zuckerberg can’t use the steel-cutting, 60,000 PSI waterjets in Area 404, Facebook’s brand new, 22,000 square foot hardware laboratory. That’s because he’s not one of the ten or so Facebook employees authorised to even get in the room with them, for safety reasons.

The big idea behind Area 404 is to provide one big space for all of the social network’s various teams, including the still-very-mysterious denizens of Building 8, to apply the “Move Fast and Break Things” philosophy to making real physical objects, not just software.

Rather than rely on outside contractors and far-off factories to build their stuff, with Area 404, Facebook now has the facilities, including those serious-business waterjets, to prototype and build that hardware in-house.

Better yet, it’s tucked into a concrete-reinforced bunker nestled right in Facebook’s main Silicon Valley campus.

That’s important, as Facebook moves beyond its ongoing efforts to build better servers for itself and into making 3D virtual reality cameras, flying internet-laser drones, and the experimental Terragraph high-speed wireless internet system.

It also means that Area 404 is going to be the place where the first versions of Facebook’s coolest, craziest, and most world-changing inventions will be made. Once fully operational, the stuff that goes on in Area 404 will be above top secret.

Luckily, Facebook let us tour Area 404 ahead of its official grand opening.

Here’s a look at the high-tech lab Facebook is using to design its engines of world domination:

1 Facebook Facebook

Facebook’s main business may be social networking space, but it’s long since been designing custom hardware in-house. Since the early 2010′s, Facebook has been designing its own custom servers just to keep up with demand.

more-recently-facebook-has-been-working-on-projects-like-the-aquila-drone-designed-to-shoot-lasers-that-bring-internet-access-to-rural-areas BI BI

More recently, Facebook has been working on projects like the Aquila drone, designed to shoot lasers that bring internet access to rural areas.

and-the-facebook-surround-360-camera-designed-to-shoot-super-high-resolution-video-for-virtual-reality BI BI

And the Facebook Surround 360 camera, designed to shoot super-high-resolution video for virtual reality.

the-name-area-404-is-itself-kind-of-a-facebook-in-joke-facebook-engineers-have-been-looking-for-a-space-to-do-all-of-this-hardware-mad-science-together-for-years-its-one-thing-to-build-software- (1) BI BI

The name ‘Area 404′ is itself kind of a Facebook in-joke. Facebook engineers have been looking for a space to do all of this hardware mad science together for years. It’s one thing to build software with remote teams, but “when you get into the physical world and you start building hardware, it’s gets a little harder to collaborate,” says Facebook VP Jason Taylor.

but-with-only-8000-square-feet-of-hardware-space-dispersed-over-the-facebook-campus-available-to-them-those-teams-simply-couldnt-find-the-space-and-so-the-new-22000-square-foot-facility-available-to BI BI

But with only 8,000 square feet of hardware space dispersed over the Facebook campus available to them, those teams simply couldn’t find the space. And so, the new 22,000 square-foot facility, available to any Facebook team, was dubbed Area 404, in honour of the infamous HTTP 404 error for “website not found.”

much-of-area-404-is-office-space-where-designers-and-modelers-use-computer-aided-design-or-cad-tools-to-make-3d-models-of-the-parts-and-tools-that-they-want-to-build-theres-also-a-big-electronics-en BI BI

Much of Area 404 is office space, where designers and modelers use computer aided design, or CAD, tools to make 3D models of the parts and tools that they want to build.

area-404-is-also-home-to-this-rf-isolation-chamber-which-blocks-out-all-radio-signals-thats-handy-if-youre-trying-to-fine-tune-cellular-modems-or-any-kind-of-wireless-signal-without-outside-interfer BI BI

Area 404 is also home to this RF isolation chamber, which blocks out all radio signals. That’s handy if you’re trying to fine-tune cellular modems or any kind of wireless signal without outside interference.


Area 404 is home to all kinds of nifty lab equipment. This CT scanner basically takes a series of X-Rays, so you can see inside anything. Note the sticker about it being a device for doing alien autopsies.

the-same-room-hosts-facebooks-electron-microscope-which-bombards-samples-with-electrons-to-get-visibility-at-a-molecular-level BI BI

The same room hosts Facebook’s electron microscope, which bombards samples with electrons to get visibility at a molecular level.


some-of-that-equipment-is-a-little-old-school-like-the-how-it-used-to-be-made-machine-shop BI BI

Some of that equipment is a little old-school, like the ‘How It Used To Be Made’ machine shop.

in-this-shop-facebook-engineers-who-pass-a-certification-program-are-allowed-to-work-on-their-own-prototypes-in-their-own-time-for-hardware-engineers-it-gives-them-the-freedom-to-make-the-exact-thin BI BI

In this shop, Facebook engineers who pass a certification program are allowed to work on their own prototypes, in their own time. For hardware engineers, it gives them the freedom to make the exact thing they need, on their own schedule.


but-the-main-event-is-in-the-how-its-really-made-lab-this-laboratory-hosts-machinery-so-specialized-and-potentially-dangerous-only-around-10-facebook-employees-have-keycard-access-to-even-get-in--an BI BI

But the main event is in the “How It’s Really Made” lab. This laboratory hosts machinery so specialiSed and potentially dangerous, only around 10 Facebook employees have keycard access to even get in — and Mark Zuckerberg ain’t one of them.

the-main-event-of-this-lab-is-this-monstrous-custom-built-waterjet-cutter-basically-it-sprays-water-at-60000-psi-a-pressure-so-intense-it-can-cut-through-steel-aluminum-wood-glass-and-anything-else- BI BI

The main event of this lab is this monstrous, custom-built waterjet cutter. Basically, it sprays water at 60,000 PSI, a pressure so intense it can cut through steel, aluminum, wood, glass, and anything else that gets in the way of the stream. It weighs something like 30 tons.

By having one of these in-house, Facebook engineers can design, build, and improve on concepts like the super-efficient housing for its custom servers, without having to contract an external factory and waiting. What used to take months, takes days.

the-huge-waterjet-is-complemented-by-this-similarly-huge-cnc-machine-which-literally-bends-the-cut-metal-into-shape BI BI

The huge waterjet is complemented by this similarly huge CNC machine, which literally bends the cut metal into shape.

this-photo-isnt-blurry--thats-just-the-splashback-from-the-massive-amounts-of-splashback-as-a-waterjet-cuts-through-metal BI BI

This photo isn’t blurry — that’s just the splashback from the massive amounts of splashback as a waterjet cuts through metal.

as-guided-by-a-facebook-modelers-skilled-hand-the-waterjets-can-make-parts-that-are-as-intricate-as-this-optical-sensor BI BI

As guided by a Facebook modeler’s skilled hand, the waterjets can make parts that are as intricate as this optical sensor.

this-is-facebooks-most-complex-machine-in-all-of-area-404-this-5-axis-vertical-miller-can-make-incredibly-exacting-prototypes-this-little-wirework-globe-isnt-functional-but-its-meant-to-be-an-illust BI BI

This is Facebook’s most complex machine in all of Area 404. This 5-axis vertical miller can make incredibly exacting prototypes. This little wirework globe isn’t functional, but it’s meant to be an illustrative representation of Facebook’s mission to connect the globe.

another-very-important-concept-at-area-404-is-the-idea-of-organization-everything-has-to-be-in-its-proper-place-explains-our-tour-guide-spencer-burns-because-it-cuts-down-on-productivity-if-you-have BI BI

Another very important concept at Area 404 is the idea of organisation. Everything has to be in its proper place, explains our tour guide Spencer Burns, because it cuts down on productivity if you have to go digging for tools.

on-a-final-note-its-important-to-remember-that-area-404-is-for-prototyping-not-mass-manufacturing-when-these-ideas-are-truly-ready-for-prime-time-they-go-out-to-a-proper-factory-to-build-area-404-is BI BI

On a final note, it’s important to remember that Area 404 is for prototyping, not mass manufacturing. When these ideas are truly ready for prime-time, they go out to a proper factory to build. Area 404 is just where Facebook is building its future, one sheet of metal at a time.

- All photos by Matt Weinberger/Business Insider

Read: Facebook helps find eight-month-old baby lost in Nice attack >

Read: Facebook Messenger is testing out encryption but it’s missing a trick >

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