Facebook partnering with top universities to speed up VR and AI research

Image credit: Derzsi Elekes Andor

Facebook is partnering with top technology universities to speed up development of artificial intelligence and virtual reality applications in search for new revenue streams.

The partnership between Facebook’s hardware division Building 8 and the 15 research institutions will speed up collaborations, which usually take 9 to 12 months to set up. According to Regina Dugan, former director of Darpa who now leads Facebook’s Building 8 unit, the new partnership will allow projects exploring new ideas to take off within a few weeks.

Participating universities will receive payment from Facebook, the firm’s spokesman said without providing further details.

“When curiosity strikes, with this new agreement in place, Harvard researchers can initiate new projects with scientific colleagues at Facebook almost immediately,” said Isaac Kohlberg, chief technology development officer at Harvard. “This agreement with Facebook recognizes that the most significant, transformative solutions will be informed by university science.”

The universities involved in the partnership include Massachusetts Institute of Technology, California Institute of Technology, Georgia Institute of Technology, Princeton, Stanford, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Johns Hopkins University, Northeastern University, Rice, University of California-Berkeley, University of California-San Francisco, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Arizona State University, Texas A&M University, and the University of Waterloo in Canada.

It is believed Facebook wants to explore the use of new technologies such as VR and AI to facilitate further growth. The company hinted last month that it had begun to hit some advertising growth limits on its network of 1.8 billion monthly active users.

Facebook has increasingly sought to find new revenue streams outside its traditional advertising model, but products such as its WhatsApp messaging app and Oculus Rift virtual reality headset currently generate little.

David Wehner, the company's chief financial officer, said during a call with analysts last month that 2017 would be a year of aggressive investment with a substantial increase in expenses. 

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