Facebook buys startup building neural monitoring armband

Facebook is buying CTRL-labs, a NY-based startup building an armband that translates movement and the wearer’s neural impulses into digital input signals, a company spokesperson tells TechCrunch.

CTRL-labs raised $67 million according to Crunchbase. The startup’s investors include GV, Lux Capital, Amazon’s Alexa Fund, Spark Capital and Founders Fund, among others. Facebook didn’t disclose how much they paid for the startup, but we’re digging around.

Update: Bloomberg pegs the deal between $500 million and $1 billion. A source close to the matter tells TechCrunch the same.

The acquisition, which has not yet closed, will bring the startup into the company’s Facebook Reality Labs division. CTRL-labs’ CEO and co-founder Thomas Reardon, a veteran technologist whose accolades include founding the team at Microsoft that built Internet Explorer, will be joining Facebook, while CTRL-labs’ employees will have the option to do the same, we are told.

Facebook has talked a lot about working on a non-invasive brain input device that can make things like text entry possible just by thinking. So far, most of the company’s progress on that project appears to be taking the form of university research that they’ve funded. With this acquisition, the company appears to be working more closely with technology that could one day be productized.

“We know there are more natural, intuitive ways to interact with devices and technology. And we want to build them,” Facebook AR/VR VP Andrew Bosworth wrote in a post announcing the deal. “It’s why we’ve agreed to acquire CTRL-labs. They will be joining our Facebook Reality Labs team where we hope to build this kind of technology, at scale, and get it into consumer products faster.”

CTRL-labs’ technology isn’t focused on text-entry as much as it is muscle movement, and hand movements specifically. The startup’s progress was most recently distilled in a developer kit that paired multiple types of sensors together to accurately determine the wearer’s hand position. The wrist-worn device offered developers an alternative to camera-based or glove-based hand-tracking solutions. The company has previously talked about AR and VR input as a clear use case for the kit. Facebook did not give details on what this acquisition means for developers currently using CTRL-labs’ kit.

This acquisition also brings to Facebook the armband patents of North (formerly Thalmic Labs). CTRL-labs purchased the patents related to the startup’s defunct Myo armband earlier this year for an undisclosed sum.

CTRL-labs’ acquisition brings more IP and talent under Facebook’s wings as competitors like Microsoft and Apple continue to build out augmented reality products. There is plenty of overlap between many of the technologies that Oculus is building for Facebook’s virtual reality products, like the Quest and Rift S, but CTRL-Labs’ tech can help the company build input devices that are less bulky, less conspicuous and more robust.

“There are some fundamental advantages that we have over really any camera-based technology — including Leap Motion or Kinect — because we’re directly on the body sensing the signal that’s going from the brain to the hand.” CTRL-labs’ head of R&D, Adam Berenzweig, told TechCrunch in an interview late last year. “There are no issues with collusion or field-of-view problems — it doesn’t matter where your hands are, whether they’re in a glove or a spacesuit.”

Facebook is holding its Oculus Connect 6 developer conference later this week, where the company will be delivering updates on its AR/VR efforts.


Source: Facebook buys startup building neural monitoring armband

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