Facebook is buying CTRL-labs, a NY-based startup building an armband that translates movement and the wearer’s neural impulses into digital input signals, a company spokesperson tells TechCrunch.
CTRL-labs raised $67 million according to Crunchbase. The startup’s investors include GV, Lux Capital, Amazon’s Alexa Fund, Spark Capital and Founders Fund, Matrix Partners, Breyer Capital, among others. Facebook didn’t disclose how much they paid for the startup, but we’re digging around.
The acquisition, which has not yet closed, will bring the startup into the company’s Facebook Reality Labs division. CTRL-labs’ CEO and co-founder Thomas Reardon, a veteran technologist whose accolades include founding the team at Microsoft that built Internet Explorer, will be joining Facebook, while CTRL-labs’ employees will have the option to do the same, we are told.
Facebook has talked a lot about working on a non-invasive brain input device that can make things like text entry possible just by thinking. So far, most of the company’s progress on that project appears to be taking the form of university research that they’ve funded. With this acquisition, the company appears to be working more closely with technology that could one day be productized.
“We know there are more natural, intuitive ways to interact with devices and technology. And we want to build them,” Facebook AR/VR VP Andrew Bosworth wrote in a post announcing the deal. “It’s why we’ve agreed to acquire CTRL-labs. They will be joining our Facebook Reality Labs team where we hope to build this kind of technology, at scale, and get it into consumer products faster.”
CTRL-labs’ technology isn’t focused on text-entry as much as it is muscle movement, and hand movements specifically. The startup’s progress was most recently distilled in a developer kit that paired multiple types of sensors together to accurately determine the wearer’s hand position. The wrist-worn device offered developers an alternative to camera-based or glove-based hand-tracking solutions. The company has previously talked about AR and VR input as a clear use case for the kit. Facebook did not give details on what this acquisition means for developers currently using CTRL-labs’ kit.
This acquisition also brings to Facebook the armband patents of North (formerly Thalmic Labs). CTRL-labs purchased the patents related to the startup’s defunct Myo armband earlier this year for an undisclosed sum.
CTRL-labs’ acquisition brings more IP and talent under Facebook’s wings as competitors like Microsoft and Apple continue to build out augmented reality products. There is plenty of overlap between many of the technologies that Oculus is building for Facebook’s virtual reality products, like the Quest and Rift S, but CTRL-Labs’ tech can help the company build input devices that are less bulky, less conspicuous and more robust.
“There are some fundamental advantages that we have over really any camera-based technology — including Leap Motion or Kinect — because we’re directly on the body sensing the signal that’s going from the brain to the hand.” CTRL-labs’ head of R&D, Adam Berenzweig, told TechCrunch in an interview late last year. “There are no issues with occlusion or field-of-view problems — it doesn’t matter where your hands are, whether they’re in a glove or a spacesuit.”
Facebook is holding its Oculus Connect 6 developer conference later this week, where the company will be delivering updates on its AR/VR efforts.
Nintendo is adding paid memberships to Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp
Nintendo plans to launch paid subscription memberships for its smartphone game Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp later this week, according to an in-game news update. The company says one plan lets you “appoint one lucky animal as your camp caretaker and get some extra help around the campsite,” while with another you’ll “receive fortune cookies and store your furniture and clothing items in warehouses.”
Nintendo released its latest mobile game, Mario Kart Tour, last month with a surprising optional subscription: a $4.99-a-month “Gold Pass” that unlocks a faster speed mode and gives users access to more in-game items. The company says it will reveal more information about the Animal Crossing memberships in videos that are due to be released on Wednesday.
Despite the hype surrounding Nintendo’s belated decision to start making smartphone games after years of pleas from investors, mobile remains a small part of the company’s overall business. Nintendo doesn’t break out specific mobile sales figures, but in its most recent earnings report said that first-half revenue for mobile and IP licensing totaled 19.9 billion yen. which is up 6.4 percent year-on-year but represents less than five percent of the company’s overall sales.
“[Mario Kart Tour] earnings are also off to a good start,” president Shuntaro Furakawa told investors at the financial results briefing after commenting on the game’s download figures. “In addition to randomized items, we have created opportunities to generate revenue such as the Gold Pass subscription to meet the various needs of consumers, allowing them to enjoy the game. By including these mechanics and multiplayer functionality, we want to make it an attractive application that will be enjoyed by consumers in the long-term.”
Nintendo’s mobile games have been hit and miss in terms of both their quality and their financial performance, but if subscriptions are a model that turns out to work, you can expect to see more of them in future titles.
By Sam Byford
Web & Domain Protection Software Market SWOT Analysis by Key Players: Leaseweb, Namecheap, SiteLock, Verisign, Sucuri
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BY SYLVIA SANCHEZ
Social networks have been weaponized for the impeachment hearings
Impeachment hearings got underway in the House of Representatives this week, as you likely noticed from the wall-to-wall coverage. The process involves the sort of high-stakes, highly partisan events that naturally dominate social feeds. What television was to impeachment in the 1970s and 1990s, Facebook and Twitter — and YouTube and maybe TikTok — will be to impeachment in 2019.
The hearings on President Donald Trump’s apparent attempted bribery of Ukraine won’t be the first time a president has had to contend with, or benefit from, a hyper-partisan media. Conservative talk radio and Fox News were in full swing when Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998, even if their rhetoric looks quaint by today’s standard. But the World Wide Web was in its infancy, and the world was then still innocent of algorithmically sorted news feeds, partisan bot armies, and state-sponsored meme warfare.
Not anymore. If the first day of hearings is any indication, social networks promise to play a powerful role in shaping the way that impeachment hearings are understood by Americans. They are also playing a powerful role in shaping the hearings themselves.
As Ryan Broderick documented at BuzzFeed, Republican lawmakers used their time during Wednesday’s hearing to promote discredited conspiracy theories that are popular on right-wing message boards:
There is one America that believes what was in former FBI director Robert Mueller’s report, that there was coordinated Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, which helped the Trump campaign. But there is a second America that believes that in the summer of 2016, the Democratic National Committee colluded with Ukrainian nationals to frame the Trump campaign for collusion with Russia, implicating a Ukrainian American DNC contractor, Alexandra Chalupa, in the collusion and the California-based cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike in the subsequent cover-up.
This unfounded theory has been propped up by a 2017 Politico story; reporting from right-wing political commentator John Solomon published earlier this year in the Hill; Attorney General Bill Barr’s summer travels; the yearlong personal investigation into Ukraine conducted by Rudy Giuliani, a lawyer working for Trump; and coverage from Fox News and conservative news sites. All of that came into play during Wednesday’s hearing, sometimes implicitly and sometimes explicitly.
After Republican members of Congress promoted these various smokescreens, right-wing media universally dismissed the hearing — either as an absurd exercise led by clowns, or as an outrageous abuse of power. Brian Stelter described the atmosphere on cable news:
Here’s what else I heard: Wednesday’s hearing was a bust. It was all just hearsay. It was a “disaster” for the Democrats and a “great day” for the Republicans. Impeachment is “stupid.” Impeachment is “fake.” There’s nothing impeachable here. There’s no reason to hold hearings. This inquiry needs to stop right now.
The message was one-sided and overwhelming. Every host and practically every guest said the Republican tribe is winning and the Democrat tribe is losing. I’m sure the president loved watching every minute of it. That’s one of the reasons why this right-wing rhetoric matters so much — because it is reassuring and emboldening Trump.
Meanwhile, if you’re reading the New York Times or watching CNN, you’re getting the sense that the case against Trump is a slam dunk, with multiple people having heard the president directly pressure his ambassador to the European Union to pursue a bribery plot. As Ezra Klein wrote recently, this impeachment is “the easiest possible test case for can our system hold a president accountable.” And yet with something like 40 percent of the country living in an alternate media universe, the basic, actual facts of the case may never penetrate into their reality.
Of course, that fear was one of the best reasons for Democrats to initiate impeachment proceedings in the first place: Show people real witnesses answering important questions over a long enough period of time — train everyone’s eyes on the same set of facts — and maybe a greater consensus will emerge.
Time will tell if they succeed. In the meantime, impeachment has proven to be big business on Facebook — where politicians are taking out highly partisan ads consistent with their respective worldviews. Emily Stewart and Rani Molla have a thorough walkthrough of how impeachment is playing out on Facebook, with Trump and Sen. Elizabeth Warren using ads to fire up their base and build their donor rolls; Tom Steyer using impeachment as a signature issue to promote his presidential candidacy; and a spice company buying tens of thousands of dollars worth of pro-impeachment advertising because they spread farther on Facebook than non-impeachment ads, resulting in a better return on investment.
Much of the debate about whether Facebook should allow political advertising noted that it represents a small fraction of the company’s business. But as the Vox writers note, that doesn’t mean it’s an insignificant business:
Facebook itself has grown into a formidable political platform in recent years, with campaigns and outside groups spending $284 million on the platform during the midterm elections, according to a report by Tech for Campaigns, a nonprofit that helps political campaigns with digital tools. While that’s just a small share of Facebook’s overall ad revenue, it’s a growing chunk of what campaigns are spending to reach constituents.
As impeachment hearings intensify, it seems likely politicians’ spending on Facebook ads will increase. And a good number of those ads, like so much about impeachment in 2019, will seem to have been created in a parallel world. In many ways, they were.
read more theverge.com
By Casey Newton
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