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Facebook Reality Labs: Inside our new Pittsburgh digs

Last year, we took you inside our labs for the first time via the Inside Facebook Reality Labs (FRL) blog series and showed you how we’re building the future of connection in augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). Today, we’re going one step further and inviting members of the Pittsburgh community inside our newest research lab space at District 15.

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Our first office in Pittsburgh opened in Schenley Plaza in 2015. Since then, FRL Pittsburgh has grown to more than 100 employees, attracting the best and brightest scientists, developers, and engineers spanning a range of expertise to establish AR and VR as the computing platform of the future.

To accommodate future growth, we opened our new office at Facebook District 15 in January. It features more than 100,000 square feet of cutting-edge lab and office space spread across four floors. The larger building represents Facebook’s continued investment in Pittsburgh and in the technology pioneered by our team. Like our other Facebook offices around the world, District 15 provides a large, open floor plan that lets our teams collaborate.

The teams that sit in our new space work on the research that continues to advance Facebook's 10-year roadmap and mission to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together. In the future, augmented and virtual reality will help billions of people meet, work, and play games with anyone, anywhere in the world. Imagine putting on a headset or a pair of glasses and being transported thousands of miles away to attend a class, a meeting, or a loved one’s birthday party — and feeling like you’re really there in person. To succeed, AR and VR must create a deeper sense of connection than today’s 2D technologies can.

Back in March 2019, we gave people an inside look at Codec Avatars, an approach pioneered by FRL Pittsburgh that uses recent advancements in machine learning to directly capture and transmit the signals people exchange when they interact in VR. Using this technology, we’ve built lifelike avatars that let two people interact in VR in real time as naturally as they do in the real world, and feel like they’re together in the same room. Our new office will allow us to ramp up our research on the avatars’ bodies, hair, and hands. FRL is also discussing several features for future devices that could let people securely create and access their avatars. We’re keenly aware of the threat “deepfakes” present and are thinking pragmatically about safeguards to keep avatar data safe.

While it’s still too early to tell exactly how this research might make its way into consumers’ hands, imagine a scenario where people create lifelike avatars of themselves with a few quick snaps of their cell phone and then access them with VR headsets and, eventually, AR glasses. It would open up entirely new ways for us to connect and interact with each other.

Our mission to foster connection also extends to our local community. Last year, we hosted and mentored scores of students and industry professionals; sponsored the high school Steel City Showdown Robotics Competition; packed up over 200 boxed lunches for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank; and hosted “Operation Gratitude” on Veterans Day, writing thank you notes and crafting more than 100 Paracord Survival Bracelets for local veterans.

Thank you to those of you who have helped us get to this point. In the meantime, be sure to check out the photo gallery below for an inside look at our new home!

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