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Facebook buys startup working on technology that lets you control computers with your mind

Typing on a screen could become a thing of the past.

Facebook is purchasing neurotechnology startup CTR-labs. 
Graphic by Pixabay/Illustration by CNET

Facebook said Monday it's acquiring CTRL-labs, a neurotechnology startup, as part of efforts to develop a wristband for controlling smartphones, computers and other digital devices without having to touch a screen or keyboard.

The moonshot project underscores the world's largest social network's efforts to transform how we communicate with one another. Facebook first said in 2017 that it was working on a computer-brain interface that would let users type words and send messages using only their brains. The company envisioned building a wearable device, rather than a system that requires surgery. 

"We spend a lot of time trying to get our technology to do what we want rather than enjoying the people around us," Andrew "Boz" Bosworth, Facebook's vice president of augmented and virtual reality, said in a Facebook post. "We know there are more natural intuitive ways to interact with devices and technology."

New York-based CTRL-labs could help the social network turn its vision into a reality. The startup has been working on a wristband that "decodes" the electrical signals that neurons in the spinal cord sends to hand muscles. These signals tell your hands to move in a specific way, such as press a button or click a mouse.

If Facebook's plans become a reality, the technology could make it easier to send photos or post messages on the social network without lifting a finger. 

"It captures your intention so you can share a photo with a friend using an imperceptible movement or just by, well, intending to," Bosworth said in the post.  

It's unclear how CTRL-labs will be incorporated into future Facebook VR and AR products, but employees from the startup will be part of Facebook Reality Labs. The lab is run by Bosworth and Michael Abrash, the chief scientist of the Facebook-owned VR company Oculus. Accessibility is a clear goal, since CTRL-labs' technology can sense intention before any movement is even made.

Facebook didn't say how much it paid to acquire CTRL-labs or when the wristband could be ready.