Facebook to buy start-up for controlling computers with your mind

Bloomberg September 24 | Updated on September 24, 2019 Published on September 24, 2019

Facebook Inc. agreed to acquire CTRL-Labs, a technology start-up that is building software to let people control a digital avatar using only their thoughts. The world’s largest social network is paying between $500 million and $1 billion, according to people familiar with the deal.

The closely held four-year-old start-up, which has dozens of employees and raised tens of millions in venture capital, uses a bracelet to measure neuron activity in a subjects arm to determine movement that person is thinking about, even if they aren’t physically moving. That neuron activity is then translated into movement on a digital screen. Facebook declined to comment on the price of the acquisition.

“Technology like CTRL-Labs may someday be a crucial part of products like augmented reality glasses, where a user might want to control a computer without the need for buttons or a keyboard. Your hands could be in your pocket, behind you,” explained Thomas Reardon, CEO of CTRL-Labs, at an industry conference last December. “It’s the intention [to move], not the movement itself that controls the avatar,” he said.

Facebook has been pushing deeper into augmented reality technology, including the development of a hands-free pair of AR glasses. In 2017, it announced a brain-computer interface that could someday let people turn their thoughts into actual text on a screen by monitoring signals in the brain. The CTRL-Labs technology is attempting to solve a similar problem.

“The wristband will decode those [neural] signals and translate them into a digital signal your device can understand,” wrote Andrew Bosworth, Facebook’s head of AR and virtual reality, in a post announcing the deal. It captures your intention so you can share a photo with a friend using an imperceptible movement or just by, well, intending to.

CTRL-Labs and Facebook are not competitors. Facebook does not currently have or make this technology, a Facebook spokeswoman said of the deal announced on Monday, adding that the company will work with regulators to secure any needed approvals. CTRL-Labs technology is an innovative input that Facebook hopes will be used to significantly improve the upcoming Facebook AR/VR experiences a few years down the road to fundamentally improve the user experience.

New York-based CTRL-Labs has raised $67 million, according to Crunchbase, and has a high-profile list of investors, including Spark Capital, Googles GV, Inc’s Alexa Fund, and Founders Fund. CTRL-Labs employees will join Facebook’s Reality Labs team, which works on AR and VR products.

Published on September 24, 2019
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