Facebook launched the research shop, called Building 8, last year to conduct long-term work that might lead to hardware products. In charge of the unit is Regina Dugan, who led a similar group at Alphabet Inc’s Google and was previously director of the US Defense Department’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA.
Any hardware rollouts are years away, Dugan said in a speech. Potential products could, if successful, be a way for Facebook to diversify beyond its heavy reliance on advertising revenue.
One example of Building 8’s work so far, Dugan said, was an attempt to improve technology that allows people to type words using their minds.
“It sounds impossible, but it’s closer than you may realize,” Dugan said.
Using brain implants, people can already type eight words a minute, she said. Facebook’s goal, working with researchers at several U.S. universities, is to make the system non-invasive, as well as fast enough so that people can type 100 words a minute just by thinking.
Possible uses include helping disabled people and “the ability to text your friend without taking out your phone,” she said.
“If you ask Frances what she feels,” Dugan said, “she’ll tell you that she has learned to feel the acoustic shape of a word on her arm.”
In December, Facebook signed a deal with 17 universities including Harvard and Princeton to allow swifter collaboration on projects with Dugan’s team.