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For only $30,000 you can build Facebook’s new camera to film 360-degree videos

The blueprints are now available online.


Facebook needs more video content, especially video content that looks cool in virtual reality. The future success of its VR headset, the Oculus Rift, depends on it. Why would you pay for VR technology if there weren’t a lot of good games or video to enjoy, right?

So that’s why Facebook unveiled a 360-degree video camera earlier this year at its annual F8 developer conference. It’s also why Facebook said that it would open source the camera, called Surround 360, which means the company would hand over the blueprints, for free, to anyone who wanted to build one themselves.

On Tuesday it did just that, posting online the instruction manual for the 360-degree camera. Facebook is not selling these cameras — hardware manufacturing is challenging, just ask the Oculus team — so while the instructions are free, you’ll need to provide the money and labor to get one of these bad boys into your garage.

Here’s a new maker video Facebook shared Tuesday along with the camera’s blueprints.

The Surround looks more like a mini flying saucer than anything else, and is actually made up of 17 different cameras all stitched into one device.

The cost: A cool $30,000.

“That may sound like a lot but it’s actually modest considering the number of cameras and the amount of bandwidth we’re talking about,” explained Brian Cabral, the engineering director for the camera. “I know from a lot of professionals we talk to, they don’t flinch about that.”

It does sound like a lot, and you can buy recreational 360-degree cameras for much cheaper. But the key word there seems to be professionals, because that’s who this camera is geared toward and who Facebook ultimately wants using it. You’re not gonna buy an Oculus headset because your neighborhood buddies are filming 360-degree video at their above-ground pool. But you might be intrigued if Hollywood filmmakers are using it.

At least that’s the hope. Cabral says the company has built dozens of the cameras in testing and may eventually give some of them away to creators. “We’ve built a bunch of them and we’re not just going to keep them in the closet,” he said.

One thing that was tough to glean from our conversation with Cabral is where this project falls under Facebook’s now-sprawling umbrella.

It’s not part of Oculus, or Building 8, the new top-secret hardware lab the company announced in April. But it doesn’t fit clearly into any other particular verticals at Facebook, either. It was introduced at F8 by product boss Chris Cox, and Cabral says he works with a bunch of different top Facebook execs depending on the day. So there you go.

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