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Facebook plucks Google's Dugan for futurist tech

Regina Dugan, the former DARPA director who most recently headed up a future-tech effort at Google, will lead Facebook's new "Building 8" hardware research group.

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Regina Dugan at the Google I/O conference in 2015.

James Martin/CNET

Facebook wants to get into hardware in a big way.

The social network on Wednesday unveiled plans for a new group called Building 8, which will research and develop hardware products that advance Facebook's plan to connect more people to the Internet. The group will be backed by a sizable investment of "hundreds of people and hundreds of millions of dollars" over the next few years, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post.

The team will be led by Regina Dugan, the former head of DARPA, or Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, a US government agency charged with developing emerging technologies for the military. She most recently worked at rival Google, where she led the search giant's Advanced Technology and Projects, or ATAP, a secretive lab that developed a modular phone called Project Ara and a tablet dubbed Project Tango.

"Today is a bittersweet day for me," Dugan wrote on her Facebook page. "I am on the one hand, tremendously excited. Building 8 is an opportunity to do what I love most...On the other hand, I am sad to leave the pirates of ATAP."

Facebook isn't a significant player in hardware, but sees products you can hold or touch as a way to achieve its mission of becoming more than a social network. Zuckerberg on Tuesday highlighted three major areas the company wants to expand into: augmented and virtual reality, artificial intelligence and connecting more people to the Internet.

To effectively do all those things, Facebook will likely need to make more pieces of electronics. It already owns VR headset maker Oculus, is building Internet-beaming drones and created a 360-degree camera. But these are still small efforts compared with Apple, Samsung and others.

One of Facebook's first hardware products was a phone that it developed with HTC, but that effort failed to catch on with customers. With a lot more money and talent, perhaps Facebook may have a better shot at creating the hardware it needs to grow.

A Google representative didn't immediately respond to a request for comment about Dugan's departure.