Facebook buys start-up for computers controlled with mind

Facebook has agreed to acquire CTRL-Labs, a start-up that is building software to let people control a digital avatar using only their thoughts.

The world’s largest social network founded by Mark Zuckerberg and fellow Harvard College students, we gathered, is paying between $500m and $1bn in the deal, even as it declined to comment on the price of the acquisition.

The closely-held four-year-old start-up, which has dozens of employees and has raised tens of millions of dollars in venture capital, uses a bracelet to measure neuron activity in a subject’s arm to determine a movement theperson is thinking about, even if they aren’t physically moving. That neuron activity is then translated into movement on a digital screen.

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,” the Chief Executive Officer of CTRL-Labs, Thomas Reardon, had explained at an industry conference last December.

“It’s the intention [to move], not the movement” itself that controls the avatar, he added.

The online social media/networking service company based in California 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.

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 Facebook’s Head of AR and Virtual Reality,Andrew Bosworth, 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.”

The purchase comes at a challenging time for Facebook, which is under two separate United States anti-trust investigations. The inquiries mean that any acquisition the company makes will be under intense scrutiny from regulators as they question whether Facebook is already too big and powerful.

“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 would work with regulators to secure any needed approval.

“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 Crunch base, and has a high profile list of investors, including Spark Capital, Google’s GV, Amazon.com’s Alexa Fund, and Founders Fund.

Its employees will join Facebook’s Reality Labs team, which works on AR and VR.

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