Facebook to acquire CTRL-labs; ‘neural interface’ startup raised cash from Amazon, Vulcan, others

CTRL-labs connects the human brain to a machine via a wrist-worn device. (CTRL-labs Photo)

Facebook will acquire CTRL-labs, a New York-based startup that is reimagining how the human brain can connect with machines. CNBC pegged the size of the deal at approximately $1 billion.

CTRL-labs developed a wristband that picks up signals from the brain and allows users to control a digital device without moving a finger. Its long-term vision is to pave the way for mass consumer adoption of non-invasive neural interface technology.

The company was co-founded in 2015 by Thomas Reardon, who helped develop Microsoft’s Internet Explorer web browser, and Patrick Kaifosh, a theoretical neuroscientist. CTRL-labs had raised $67 million to date from investors including Amazon’s Alexa Fund; the late Paul Allen’s Vulcan Capital; and several others.

CTRL-labs employees will join the Facebook Reality Labs team, previously known as Oculus Research. Facebook bought Oculus for $2 billion in 2014.

“We spend a lot of time trying to get our technology to do what we want rather than enjoying the people around us,” Facebook AR/VR VP Andrew Bosworth wrote in a post. “We know there are more natural, intuitive ways to interact with devices and technology. And we want to build them. It’s why we’ve agreed to acquire CTRL-labs.”

Here’s more from Bosworth’s post:

The vision for this work is a wristband that lets people control their devices as a natural extension of movement. Here’s how it’ll work: You have neurons in your spinal cord that send electrical signals to your hand muscles telling them to move in specific ways such as to click a mouse or press a button. 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. It captures your intention so you can share a photo with a friend using an imperceptible movement or just by, well, intending to.

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 are a few videos showing demonstrating CTRL-labs’ technology in action, and a clip of Reardon introducing CTRL-kit at the startup event Slush 2018 in December.

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