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Facebook’s research lab Building 8 is reportedly working on a device about the size of a laptop for video calls, anonymous sources told Bloomberg. Sources also say a smart speaker is being developed by the company, and that the devices could be available as soon as spring 2018. If this is true, the undertaking would be the first major hardware projects produced by Building 8.

The news comes a day after Facebook acquired AI assistant startup Ozlo to beef up its conversational AI and Facebook Messenger team, and a week after DigiTimes reported that Facebook is working on a device similar to the Amazon Echo Show.

The dedicated video chat device, sources say, will come with a wide angle camera lens, and is being made to help people on a video call feel like they’re in the same room. A 360-degree camera has also been considered for the device, which may run on the Android operating system.

The devices, which will rival the Apple HomePod and Amazon Echo, will both be powered by a voice-enabled AI assistant like Siri or Alexa. Given that Facebook is far behind many of its rivals in this space, the smart speaker could be abandoned in favor of the video chat device, sources told Bloomberg.

The voice inside these devices could come from a range of places within Facebook: There’s the AI assistant M, which has yet to be fully deployed, and there’s Mark Zuckerberg’s homemade voice assistant Jarvis, which speaks with the voice of Morgan Freeman.

Another possibility: Because Building 8 conducts experiments and hardware research to propel Facebook products, none of this could see the light of day.

Other initiatives being pursued by Building 8 right now include tech to allow people to type with their brain and feel words, augmented reality, and perhaps some tech that flies.


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