Thoms Reardon, co-founder of CTRL-Labs. Image source: Flickr
Patrick Kaifosh grew up in a world that’s full of day-to-day interactions with computers and other devices. Now 31, the cofounder and chief science officer of New York-based neurotech startup CTRL-Labs, is annoyed by the sheer number of ways that we’re forced to interact.
“I have one keyboard on my laptop which is okay, another keyboard that’s different and maybe I’m faster with at my desktop and then if I have to use my phone to type a message it’s much slower,” the Forbes Under 30 alum says. “It’d be much nicer to have one system for generating text that follows you around everywhere you go.”
Kaifosh wants to build just that system at CTRL-Labs, which is developing a wristband that is capable of reading the neural signals your brain sends your hands and using those signals to control devices.
There’s no shortage of startups developing devices to enable neural control of computers and other electronic devices, but most of them are focused on, well, the brain. That is, they use some type of electrode that connects to the head, usually a headband, which reads signals directly from the cortex.
CTRL-Labs is taking a different approach. It’s developed a wristband that detects the signals your brain sends to your hand and fingers. The device then interprets those signals for a very intuitive way to interface with a device.
As an example, check out this video of someone using a CTRL-Labs device to play a game of the arcade classic Asteroids.
So why the wrist and not the head? Kaifosh, who received his Ph.D. in neuroscience from Columbia University, says that measuring these signals makes it easier to develop a device that’s universal. That’s because electrodes reading neural signals on your head, he explained, will get different results for different people. In the cortex, neurons in the brain can be right next to each other but signal for different vastly things, making it hard to pinpoint the right ones.
By contrast, he explained, the neurons that control the muscles in your hand are more organized by region. “So there’s consistency across people due to the layout of the muscles,” he said.
CTRL-Labs has received significant interest from investors. In February, the company closed a $28 million funding round led by GV, bringing its total capital raised to $67 million from investors like the Amazon Alexa Fund, Spark Capital, Matrix Partners and Lux Capital.
The latest round of capital will finance the next step of CTRL-Labs’ growth. The company will be building and distributing its developer kit, for which it currently has a waiting list. Plans also include growing its new office in San Francisco and looking for potential partnerships.
As it works with developers and partners, the company’s ultimate goal is to get its wristband sensitive enough to pick up signals from a single neuron. That kind of control, Kaifosh says, means that you could wear one of its wristbands all the time and use it to work with the devices you use daily.
“Ultimately, we see this as becoming a universal controller for all your interactions with technology,” he said.