The world-renowned wheelchair-bound physicist Stephen Hawking has received a new communications system, made by tech giant Intel, allowing him to double his speech rate compared to earlier versions.
The theoretical physicist, suffering from Lou Gehrig’s disease, has been cooperating with the California-based chipmaker for the past 25 years, pushing the boundaries of assistive technology.
He demonstrated the new system, consisting of a control monitor, a speech synthesiser and predictive language software, at a press conference in London today.
"We are here to talk about how science and technology is improving the lives of people with disabilities,” Professor Hawking said.
"We are pushing the boundaries of what is possible through technology - without it I would not be able to speak to you today. Intel's research and development is bringing about changes in the world and in the way that disabled people can communicate.”
Hawking, who says technology improved his quality of life much more than medicine ever did, can control the system via an infra-red sensor on his glasses and movements of his cheeks. The smart software, developed by UK company SwiftKey, than predicts which words and phrases the physicist may want to use based on earlier analysis of his texts and speeches.
"Under this new system, Stephen only has to type around 15 per cent to 20 per cent of those characters; the rest will actually all be predicted,” Joe Osbourne from Swift Key explained.
“The result of this is that we've roughly doubled his speech quickness.”
Intel has integrated the technology components into a smart system, called the Assistive Context Aware Toolkit (Acat), which provides shortcuts for Hawking to use on his keyboard to switch more efficiently between online browsing, typing and creating notes and documents. As a result, the physicist can work up to ten times more efficiently.
"The Intel team and I have been working together for almost three years on upgrading my communication system,” Hawking said.
"With the improvements made, I am now able to write much faster, and it means that I can continue to give lectures, write papers and books, and of course speak with my family and friends more easily.”
Intel said it will release Acat, capable of using both, iOS and Android mobile platforms, into the open source domain by the end of January so that developers can start enhancing it.
"This software has the ability to help many, many people, so to make that happen we have decided to open source the software and offer it for free to people in January of this coming year,” said Lama Nachman, principal engineer of the project at Intel.
"Our hope is that by actually putting this out there with the open source community we're actually enabling a lot of researchers and developers to build on the three years of work that we've put into the system."
Hawking, who is replacing his previous talking system after 20 years called the new technology ‘life-changing’ and expressed confidence it will serve him for at least another two decades.
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