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Facebook acquires a startup that has built a mind-reading wristband

Facebook has acquired CTRL-Labs, a New York-based startup that has developed tech for controlling computers using decoded neural activity and the wave of a hand. Because, you know, who wants to bother using their mouse and keyboard to “like” posts or comment on someone’s holiday photos?

According to CNBC, the deal was worth between $500 million and $1 billion. A Facebook spokesperson told the publication that it spent under $1 billion. CTRL-Labs was founded in 2015 by Thomas Reardon, the creator of Microsoft Internet Explorer. It describes itself as an “applied research neuroscience company.”

“Technology like this has the potential to open up new creative possibilities and reimagine 19th-century inventions in a 21st-century world,” said Facebook Vice President of AR/VR Andrew “Boz” Bosworth in a statement following the acquisition. “This is how our interactions in VR and AR can one day look. It can change the way we connect.”

CTRL-Labs has developed a wristband that decodes electrical signals from neurons in the spinal cord. It makes it possible to control interfaces or smart devices with Jedi-like hand gestures. Its prototype device allows users to carry out feats like typing 200 words in a minute without touching a keyboard.

CTRL Labs Oreilly Demo

“I could certainly see a future where people are wearing this device all day, and that it’s the thing that is used to interact with people’s phones, the lights in their house, and the radio in their car,” Adam Berenzweig, director of R&D at CTRL-Labs, told Digital Trends last year. “After people are used to it, it’s easy to imagine that people will [wonder why they need a keyboard or mouse at all] when they’re sitting at their computer.”

At Facebook, CTRL-Labs will be part of Facebook Reality Labs, the division of the company dedicated to building augmented reality glasses. According to CTRL-Labs’ website, “CTRL-kit is currently in preview for select developers. Join our early access list to start integrating neural interfaces into your projects soon.” We fully expect that Facebook’s purchase will change the planned rollout a little bit.

Still, now that Facebook is fully embracing hardware through devices like its Portal smart cameras it doesn’t seem out of the question that a commercial release of this device will take place in the near(ish) future!

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Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
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