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Facebook Buys Neural Monitoring Startup CTRL-labs

by Ivana Vojinovic

Yesterday Facebook announced its decision to acquire CTRL-labs, a tech startup that is working on creating a bracelet that would allow users to communicate with computers using their brains. According to Bloomberg’s sources, the deal is worth between $500 million and $1 billion.

Andrew Bosworth, head of Facebook’s virtual reality and augmented reality departments shared the news yesterday in a social media post. “We spend a lot of time trying to get our technology to do what we want rather than enjoying the people around us. 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,” Bosworth wrote.

So far, the startup’s flagship product has been an armband that measures neuron activity in a subject and then replicates the same motion on a computer screen. The technology deployed in this wrist-worn device picks up on electrical impulses coming from muscle fibers as they move. A computer then imitates the muscle movement on a screen. Simply put, this invention allows users to move the arm on the screen by moving their physical arm, or even just by thinking of moving it.

Employees of CTRL-labs will be joining the Facebook Reality Labs team that’s working on VR and AR projects. Bosworth added that the goal of pairing these two teams is to further develop the technology CTRL-labs has been working on, to do it “at scale, and get it into consumer products faster.”

Facebook decided to go through with the purchase even though it is currently under two separate antitrust investigations by the Federal Trade Commission. Regulators will closely examine any acquisition made by Facebook while the investigation is underway.

“CTRL-Labs and Facebook are not competitors. Facebook does not currently have or make this technology,” a Facebook spokeswoman told Bloomberg of the deal announced on Monday. She added that the company would work with regulators to secure any needed approvals. “CTRL-Labs’s 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.”

According to CrunchBase, the four-year-old New York startup raised $67 million in three rounds of funding. Its list of investors includes some high-profile names including Google’s GV, Amazon.com, Inc.’s Alexa Fund, Spark Capital, and Founders Fund.

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