Facebook Agreed to Acquire Brain Computing Startup CTRL-labs

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by Wanguba Muriuki · 3 min read
Facebook Agreed to Acquire Brain Computing Startup CTRL-labs
Photo: CTRL-labs

Facebook has agreed to take over New York-based CTRL-labs to help the startup develop a new device that will let people control digital devices using their minds in a deal reportedly worth $1 billion.

Facebook said on September 23 that it agreed to acquire New York-based CTRL-labs. The acquired startup is creating a wristband that will let people communicate with computers using brain signals. Thus, the new device will let people control digital devices using their minds.

CNBC reported that the deal is estimated to be worth around $1 billion. However, a Facebook spokesperson said that it is lower than the reported $1 billion. Andrew Bosworth, the Facebook Vice President of AR/VR, announced the deal in a Facebook post. Without giving any financial details, Bosworth confirmed that CTRL-labs will join the Facebook Reality Labs team.

According to an official statement from the social media giant company, it intends to use the neural interface technology of the startup in creating a wristband that will connect to other devices intuitively. Bosworth said:

“The vision for this work is a wristband that lets people control their devices as a natural extension of movement. We hope to build this kind of technology, at scale, and get it into consumer products faster.”

Reliable media reports suggest that CTRL-labs is working closely with machine learning and brain science to develop interfaces for people to control and manipulate computers by just thinking. The development-stage wrist-worn devices use sensors to track gestures and could in the future act as input devices.

How it Works

CTRL-labs startup now strives to create a wristband that will enable people to control their devices. Bosworth explained in a post announcing the acquisition:

“Technology like this has the potential to open up new creative possibilities and reimagine 19th-century inventions in a 21st-century world. This is how our interactions in VR and AR can one day look. It can change the way we connect.”

Here is how the wristband will work: people have neurons in their spinal cords that send various electrical signals to hand muscles. The signals tell the hands to move in a specific way like pressing a button, taking a cup, or clicking a mouse. Bosworth wrote:

“The wristband will decode those signals and translate them into a digital signal your device can understand, empowering you with control over your digital life.”

Thomas Reardon and Patrick Kaifosh are the founders of CTRL-labs and they both received their PhDs in neuroscience from Columbia University. The startup was founded in 2015. In his early years, Reardon spent nine years at Microsoft serving as the technology chief at Openwave Systems. Alphabet’s GV and Amazon’s Alexa Fund helped CTRL-labs in February to get $28 million in funding.

This deal comes amidst an antitrust investigation leveled against Facebook by the Federal Trade Commission. That investigation is reportedly looking into whether the company facilitated its acquisitions trying to suppress competition.

Since 2016, Facebook has been working on brain-computing technology as part of the company’s Building 8 division. That division was a Skunkworks lab that was launched to enhance the behemoth’s efforts in developing consumer hardware products.

The company has also ventured into the digital world with the most recent efforts being the introduction of its Libra project. Facebook now strives relentlessly to ensure that it will launch the project in 2020. As we announced earlier, it acquired ServiceFriend to help in the building of a chatbox for Calibra wallet. For transparency purposes, Facebook also released full details of Libra’s basket of currencies.

The company offered updates on its brain-computing efforts in July. At the time, it said that research done with the University of California San Francisco revealed promising progress. However, Facebook acknowledges that it is still years away from commercialization.

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