Facebook makes the blueprints of its 360-degree video camera available to everyone

At the Facebook’s F8 developer conference back in April, the social network had introduced a 360-degree camera. So, it was no surprise when it announced that it is now open sourcing the design of Surround 360, its 17-camera array designed to capture video in 360 degrees, and making it available for free to everybody who wants to build one. The aim is to boost camera makers and videographers to shoot more footage in the experimental format — and, of course, share it on Facebook.

The social network is already a hugely popular way of sharing photos and videos. Also, in recent months, it has pushed live video into citizen hands, changing the nature of news, media, and communication.

While Facebook is not in the business of making cameras but it has hugely invested in virtual reality. “Over time, this will evolve even higher,” says Facebook camera guru Brian Cabral, a veteran of computer graphics giant nVidia and camera maker Lytro. “I don’t think it’s a ‘whether.’ It’s a ‘when.’”

The social network owns Oculus, which makes one of the best virtual reality headsets that money can buy. It also supports 360-degree content on the world’s largest social network.

Facebook has put it on Surround 360’s GitHub repository: the camera’s designs, assembly instructions, control software, and, importantly, the code that stitches the camera’s images into one seamless 360-degree whole. However, it is not going to be selling any hardware.

The camera is designed to be modified and fiddled with, says Brian Cabral, a Facebook engineering director who led development of the Surround 360 at the company’s Menlo Park headquarters. “There will be people who will try different configurations, trying to make it smaller, cheaper, lighter,” he says. “Some people will go up, marking it bigger in resolution. That’s not only okay, but encouraged.”

Building the Surround 360 won’t come cheap. At Facebook’s preferred configuration, the camera cost about $30,000 to build and, with the proper parts, can be constructed in about four hours.

Facebook has no interest in being a manufacturer, or making a profit off camera sales. “Our mission is to connect the world. Well, how do we do that?” Cabral explains. “One of those ways is with video and 360. So how do we get there?” In other words, the question is not whether Facebook will or will not sell a piece of camera hardware. Instead, it’s “how to solve this problem the best way,” he adds.

Open sourcing the design of Surround 360 is a great way for Facebook to get more 360-degree content on the social network, and also to catch attention of pros and semi-pros.