Facebook is about to become one of the hot new hardware spots in Silicon Valley. How do you like that?

I’ve been following Facebook for a while now thanks to its Open Compute Project which creates multi-vendor specs for everything from servers to switches to 100Gbit/second optical interconnects and a GPU server.

Then along came Oculus and a smattering of moonshot research programs such as Aquila and OpenCellular, often related to its corporate initiative to spread Internet access (and thus Facebook advertising opportunities) to every end of the planet.

Today, coming back from a mini-vacation, I got an email about the latest hardware effort from the social networking company–a 2,044-square-metre hardware lab at its Menlo Park, California, office.

A Facebook blog on the new lab said it includes an EE lab and a prototyping lab. It described in lavish detail the cool gear the prototyping lab will contain including:

  • A 9-axis mill-turn lathe, used for making its custom two-axis gimbal for air-to-air and air-to-ground laser communications.
  • A 5-axis water jet, capable of cutting full 10in x 5in sheets several inches thick of material, including aluminium, steel, granite, stone, etc.
  • Two sheet metal shear and CNC folder machines
  • A CNC fabric cutter
  • A coordinate measuring machine capable of reverse-engineering a part and turning it into a 3D computer model
  • An electron microscope—this is at Facebook!—and a CT scanner, used for examining components for failure analysis

EETI facebook 01 Figure 1: A 9-axis mill lathe in Facebook's new hardware lab. (Source: Facebook)

Clearly, the company wants to make EEs around the world drool and scramble for their resumes. Strategically, I expect it hopes many of them leave GoogleX labs just a few miles away. Of course, Google already weaned some of the world’s best microprocessor designers from Valley bastions such as Hewlett-Packard to come design its accelerator chips and more.

I asked how many engineers the lab will employ and whether they are hiring but haven’t heard back. Stay tuned for updates.

Meanwhile, welcome to the new Silicon Valley and electronics industry where work that used to get done at Bell Labs and Xerox PARC is now funded by advertising around cute cat videos and pictures of dinners people are about to eat.

It’s a crazy and wonderful time in this industry and profession. Hope you like it.