The social media platform turned tech giant could release an Amazon (AMZN) - Get Amazon.com, Inc. Report Echo Show competitor in the first quarter of 2018, supply chain sources told Digiday.
The device's top feature would be a 15-inch touch panel made by LG Display (LPL) - Get LG Display Co. Ltd. Report . The screen would be more than twice the size of the seven-inch touch screen featured on the $229.99 Amazon Show, which launched on June 28. Taiwan-based Pegatron Corporation (PGTRF) has already started manufacturing Facebook's speaker device, the sources said.
Facebook would be entering an already crowded market. Amazon has the $179.99 Echo, $229.99 Echo Show, $199.99 Echo Look, $129.99 Amazon Tap and $49.99 Echo Dot. Alphabet (GOOGL) - Get Alphabet Inc. Class A Report has the $129.99 Google Home and Alibaba (BABA) - Get Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. Report will release its $73 Tmall Genie smart speaker in August. And, finally, Apple (AAPL) - Get Apple Inc. Report will release its $349 HomePod smart speaker in December.
While a hardware product from Facebook might seem unusual, the company actually has two busy hardware labs: Area 404 for its main lab and Building 8 reserved for an all-star tech team to work on secretive hardware devices.
The team working in Building 8 consists of "world-class experts" who are developing "seemingly impossible products that define new categories," according to a job page showing open positions for the team. The group can only work on a project for two years before Facebook determines whether it's worth continuing or not.
Here are three more exciting hardware products Facebook is working on in Area 404 and Building 8.
1. Brain-scanning technology that turns thoughts into words.
Technology that allows people to type with their minds actually already exists. However, it currently requires surgical implants. Facebook wants to allow people to type at 100 words per minute through non-intrusive devices, such as a headband. If you're worried about your brain typing out embarrassing thoughts, Facebook's Building 8 head Regina Dugan said you will be able to keep certain thoughts private.
So far, 60 engineers have been working on this brain-scanning technology for about nine months, Dugan said at Facebook's F8 conference for developers in April.
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2. A device that allows users to hear -- through their skin.
Facebook's secretive Building 8 team is also working on a device that will allow the deaf to hear through their own skin.
In an idea based on the idea of Braille, the team has a person strap on a device that sends vibrations up their arm that corresponds with words. In other words, different frequencies represent different words. This type of technology will eventually allow people to read a text through vibrations while still holding a conversation with someone.
The Building 8 team has been working on this project for about nine months as well, Dugan said.
Facebook is working on the 'Aquila' drone as a way to provide the Internet to remote areas around the globe.
3. Drones that provide the Internet in zones hit by natural disasters.
Facebook is getting serious about its mission to make the world more connected with its work on "Tether-tenna," a small helicopter that will fly over an area hit by a natural disaster to provide Internet access when Wi-Fi towers aren't working.
When completed, this technology will be able to be deployed immediately and operate for months at a time to bring back connectivity in case of an emergency -- ensuring the local community can stay connected while the in-ground connectivity is under repair," Facebook's Connectivity Lab head Yael Maguire wrote in a blog post.
The same team is also working on the Aquila drone, which features a wingspan larger than a Boeing 737, yet weighs just one-third as much as an electric car. Facebook hopes the drone can provide Internet access to remote parts of the world. In June 2016, the drone flew for 96 minutes before crashing upon landing due to a strong gust of wind. The Aquila drone is supposed to fly for 60 to 90 days when it's completed.
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