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Facebook’s secretive hardware division is exploring modular smartphones

Facebook’s secretive hardware division is exploring modular smartphones


Building on the expertise of Google’s defunct Project Ara

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Project Ara
The former head of Google’s Project Ara, a high-profile modular smartphone concept pictured above, now leads Facebook’s Building 8 division.
Photo: Google

Facebook’s Building 8, the secretive skunkworks division led by former DARPA director Regina Dugan, is looking into developing modular smartphones, according to a report from Business Insider.

The company filed for a patent, published today, that details a “modular electromagnetic device” that would alleviate the issue of “expensive and wasteful” conventional electronics that consumers purchase and then dispose of when they’re inevitably outdated in a couple of years. The patent describes both a phone and a smart speaker as potential product categories.

Photo: Facebook

It’s unclear to what extent Facebook is working on a concrete hardware project that will see the light of day, but there are a number of signs that point to Building 8’s increasing interest in modular devices. For one, Dugan, as the head of Building 8, has a history with modular smartphones: she was previously in charge of Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP) group, which developed a modular phone called Project Ara. That product got all the way to a pilot test of the hardware in Puerto Rico before Google shuttered the project last fall.

Earlier in the year, Dugan joined Facebook to lead Building 8, where she’s pursuing a number of other ambitious hardware concepts. Those far-off ideas even include brain-computer interfaces that allow people to type with their thoughts and even hear through their skin. The division’s head of new product introduction, Bernard Richardson, is also formerly of Amazon’s Echo speaker, giving Building 8 some high-profile consumer hardware expertise.

Business Insider reports that a number of former Project Ara team members now work for Building 8 at Facebook. The company also confirmed to BI that the technology described in the patent was developed primarily by former members of the startup Nascent Objects, a company focusing on modular electronics that Facebook acquired last September.