Social media giant Facebook has acquired a startup that has been investigating the practical applications of direct brain input for computers. CTRL labs based in New York has had several rounds of funding and is responsible for inventing a device which allows users to intercept the signals they send down their arms as input via a wristband. The device can read those impulses and translate them into a keyboard or mouse input as the case may be.
Facebook acquired the company for anywhere between $500M and $1Bn, although exact figures were not forthcoming. The acquisition marks another feather in the cap of the tech company, which has been steadily looking into making direct neural inputs a reality. The company intends to incorporate the new acquisition into its Reality Labs holding. Reality Labs is responsible for innovating in the field of virtual reality and augmented reality, so this technology may be incorporated to help user input and interfacing.
A History of Brain-Computer Interest by Facebook
Facebook revealed way back in 2015 that they had interest in pursuing brain-computer interfaces (BCIs). Back then, the company commissioned a ‘neuromarketing agency’ to monitor people’s mental feedback to different types of advertisements. In 2017, the company revealed it had over sixty people working on BCIs. Their goal was to produce a device that allowed users to type at a rate of one hundred characters per minute. Last month, the company reported that they were funding development at the University of California San Francisco of a system by which paralyzed people can communicate. Facebook also stated that they would be happy to see this technology being used in the mainstream as well.
While BCIs are still in their nascency, it’s a promising first step to see innovation heading in this direction. Direct brain interface will speed up the time between inputs to computers and will make for a more immersive experience for the user. Some experts have warned that the technology may create some privacy problems by the way they erode the boundaries between people and their machines. Ideally, as development continues, bugs like these would be worked out before the consumer gets access to the device.