Sep 23, 2019 - Technology

Facebook to buy a leading brain interface startup

Photo of a person wearing a VR headset and gesticulating with two controllers

Facebook's Oculus VR headset. Photo: Amy Osborne / AFP / Getty

Facebook announced Monday that it will buy CTRL-Labs, a startup developing an arm-worn device that reads brain signals. The companies did not disclose the deal's price tag, but reports range from upwards of $500 million to as much as $1 billion.

Why it matters: Facebook has been developing its own brain–machine interface for several years, but this is a major acquisition that could propel its technology quickly forward — and in a way that's potentially less invasive of users' privacy.

Details: CTRL-Labs will join Facebook's Reality Labs division, and will drive new ways of interacting with virtual worlds, Facebook VP Andrew Bosworth wrote on Monday.

  • The startup has been developing wrist-worn devices that can read brain signals from nerves in the arm. It can tell, for example, if you are about to move a finger, but don't move it.
  • As Facebook's Bosworth described it: "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 founder Thomas Reardon told Axios in an August interview that his company had already begun making some devices available to developers and academic researchers, in hopes of "beginning a new platform wave."

  • "In my dream, people feel frustrated when they take off the band," Reardon said.
  • While the device can pick up a decision to move, it can't decipher higher-level thoughts from your head.
  • That's unlike a different strain of technology that Facebook is working on: head-mounted devices that it says will allow users to do things like type with their thoughts.
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