Intel released the software Stephen Hawking uses to communicate with the world for free online in hopes that it can help others with ALS and similar disabilities.
Hawking has a motor neuron disease, or Leu Gehrig’s disease, and is almost entirely paralyzed. The 73-year-old author and world-renowned physicist relies on Intel’s speech system technology to speak. His system was upgraded in 2014 to help him type faster, switch between tasks smoothly and browse the internet with ease, ABC News reports.
Intel hopes that code for the software, called Assistive Context-Aware Toolkit (ACAT), will be leveraged by developers using Windows 7 and up who will establish new interfaces. By making the program open to the public, Intel thinks that those developers will expand on the system, create ways for sensors to connect with the system and help people with ALS (Leu Gehrig’s disease) and other disabilities communicate worldwide, Time reports.
Here’s how Hawking’s system works. He has a cheek sensor that links to a switch on his glasses. This allows him to choose a character he wants to type. Then, it is processed by his speech synthesizer and heard aloud from his Lenovo laptop.
This allows Hawking to navigate the web and use other computer programs. Intel has also integrated text technology to increase the system’s efficiency. It works much like predictive type on an iPhone. The software guesses what Hawking is trying to say based on the characters he has already typed.
Now that the source code for ACAT is out there, anyone can build a system similar to Hawking’s. This is huge! Here are a couple of things you need to know:
Sorry Apple users. The program is PC-only, according to Wired. You will have to have a running PC with at least Windows XP, and there are no plans to move it to Mac. Also, ACAT uses visual cues in the person’s face to comprehend commands, so your PC needs to have a webcam.
ACAT will probably get more interesting and complex in the future. “We have been busy building different sensors and trying this out with patients,” Intel principal engineer Lama Nachman said. Accelerometer-based sensors, proximity sensors and Intel’s RealSense 3D camera have been included in Nachman’s experimentation.