Myo resurrected? Facebook acquires CTRL-labs in device gesture-control research push

Facebook wants to bring gesture-based AR & VR wristbands to the market quickly.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

Facebook has acquired CTRL-labs, a startup that specializes in the development of technology for people to control devices using their minds and gestures.  

The social media giant's vice president of augmented and virtual reality (AR and VR), Andrew Bosworth, said on Monday that the acquisition has been made to improve the ways we interact with our devices. 

"We spend a lot of time trying to get our technology to do what we want rather than enjoying the people around us," Bosworth said. "We know there are more natural, intuitive ways to interact with devices and technology. And we want to build them."

Financial details have not been disclosed. However, CNBC reports that the purchase of the New York-based startup could have fetched between $500 million and $1 billion. 

A Facebook spokesperson said the acquisition price was lower than $1 billion. 

Founded in 2015, CTRL-labs is a neural interface developer and the creators of CTRL-kit, a platform for the creation of human-to-machine control technologies. 

The co-founders of the company are Thomas Reardon and Patrick Kaifosh, who are PhD-qualified specialists in neuroscience. CTRL-labs is estimated to have between 51 and 100 members of staff and has previously raised $67 million through three funding rounds. 

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Under the terms of the agreement, the CTRL-labs team will be joining Facebook Reality Labs, made up of researchers, developers, and engineers working in the AR/VR space. 

In particular, Facebook wants to develop a wristband that "lets people control their devices as a natural extension of movement," according to Bosworth. 

The executive said that the neurons in our spinal cords, responsible for sending electrical signals to our hand muscles as instructions for moving in a particular way -- such as flexing a finger or clicking a mouse -- will be monitored, analyzed, and translated into digital signals that our electronic devices can understand. 

The wristband will then be able to "capture your intention so you can share a photo with a friend using an imperceptible movement or just by, well, intending to."

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It is worth noting that CTRL-labs acquired patents relating to gesture-controlled armbands from Myo in June. As reported by VentureBeat, the intellectual property once belonged to North  -- formerly Thalmic Labs -- and relates to electromyography (EMG) and human-computer interactions. 

ZDNet reviewed the $199 Myo gesture-control armband back in 2015, and while we noted the product was not very comfortable and would not always read muscles correctly when we made gestures to control devices, there was certainly huge potential in the technology. 


In 2018, sales of the armband ended, despite strong interest from researchers and the prosthetics community. 

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"Technology like this has the potential to open up new creative possibilities and reimagine 19th-century inventions in a 21st-century world," Bosworth says. "This is how our interactions in VR and AR can one day look. It can change the way we connect."

The last major acquisition Facebook made in the AR and VR industry was Oculus in 2014 for roughly $2 billion. Since the purchase, the social media giant has maintained a steady business in the sale of Oculus headsets and controllers to the general public. The company is also aiming to crack the enterprise side of AR and VR with Oculus for Business software. 

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