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Facebook Hired a Former DARPA Head To Lead An Ambitious New Research Lab

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If you need another sign that Facebook’s world-dominating ambitions are just getting started, here’s one: the Menlo Park, Calif. company has hired a former DARPA chief to lead its new research lab.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced April 14 that Regina Dugan will guide Building 8, a new research group developing hardware projects that advance the company’s efforts in virtual reality, augmented reality, artificial intelligence and global connectivity.

Dugan served as the head of the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency from 2009 and 2012. Most recently, she led Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects Lab, a highly experimental arm of the company responsible for developing new hardware and software products on a strict two-year timetable.

Dugan will bring the same sink-or-swim mindset to Facebook. “This method is characterized by aggressive, fixed timelines, extensive use of partnerships with universities, small and large businesses, and clear objectives for shipping products at scale,” Zuckerberg said in a post announcing the hire.

The new lab underscores just how far Facebook plans to extend beyond its social media roots. The company has made plays at controlling hardware in the past—remember Facebook Home, the software that transformed an Android phone into a Facebook-driven mobile experience? That effort flopped, but now the company seems more focused on making bets in unestablished markets. Facebook was first to market with a high-end, consumer-friendly virtual reality headset with the Oculus Rift. And this week, the company announced that it is releasing the hardware and software specs for a new 360-degree camera that could help creators generate compelling content for Rift owners. That kind of project, which blends hardware and software to benefit another division in Facebook’s empire, is exactly the type of thing Dugan and Building 8 will be working on in the future, Facebook chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer told the Wall Street Journal.

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