Facebook has announced the acquisition of New-York-based startup CTRL-labs in a push to the company’s ambitious project of developing technology which could let people type straight from their brains. CTRL-labs, which specialises in the development of non-invasive neural interface technology, has been acquired by the social media company for lower than $1 billion and a CNBC report puts the size of the deal between $500 million and $1 billion.
Facebook Vice President of AR/VR Andrew Bosworth said in a Facebook post that CTRL-labs will join the company’s Reality Labs. Typically, the idea of someone being able to type with their brains would require some sort of a chip or sensors to embedded inside the brain. But Facebook wants to create a brain-computer interface system, which is non-evasive or does not require surgery and can be controlled simply using a wristband.
That is where CTRL-labs comes in, which works on non-evasive brain-machine interfaces. Last year, it revealed a wristband studded with electrodes that can signal a user’s intention by detecting electrical pulses along the neurons in arm that transmit orders from brain to muscles.
Facebook’s ultimate goal is for a user to type 100 words per minute with their brain. “The vision for this work is a wristband that lets people control their devices as a natural extension of movement,” Bosworth added. He also explained how the system would work.
So, the electrical signals from neurons in spinal cord will be sent to hand muscles telling them to say click a mouse or press a button, after which the wristband will decode the signals to be translated into digital signal that can be understood by the device. The emphasis, of course, is on capturing the intention, which according to Bosworth, could also allow sharing of photos with a friend “using an imperceptible movement or just by, well, intending to.”
Facebook revealed the idea of brain-computer interface system at its F8 Developer conference in 2017, where it also showcased a prototype system, which let a person with ALS type with their brain, thanks to a small chip embedded inside the brain. Earlier this year, Facebook Research Labs (FRL) said in an update that researchers at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) who are working with the company, were able to detect intended speech in real-time from brain activity.