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Intel boosts communications capabilities of disabled

Editorial
article image Through automation, Professor Hawking has experienced a 10x improvement in common tasks.

UK professor Stephen Hawking will upgrade his decades-old communications system with a new Intel-created platform.

The new communication platform will dramatically improve the ability of Professor Hawking to communicate with the world. The system, dubbed Assistive Context Aware Toolkit (ACAT) is tailored to the needs of Professor Hawking, and the specific relationship between him and his machine.

The same platform, which will be made available to research and technology communities by January 2015, can be adapted for the estimated 3 million people afflicted with MND and quadriplegia.

Hawking has a motor neuron disease (MND) related to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), which has almost entirely paralysed him. As such, he has to communicate using technology.

A multidisciplinary team of researchers from Intel Labs worked for three years with Hawking to replace his current communications system with modern technology. Hawking provided ongoing feedback, to help Intel improve the system with every iteration.

The Intel Labs team have successfully delivered a holistically better communication experience, allowing Professor Hawking to continue living independently.

The Intel-created software user interface enables existing and new technologies to efficiently work with each other. This allows Professor Hawking to double his typing speed. Through automation, Professor Hawking has experienced a 10x improvement in common tasks, such as easier, more accurate and faster browsing, editing, managing and navigating the web, emails and documents; opening a new document; and saving, editing and switching between tasks.

His existing cheek sensor is detected by an infrared switch mounted to his glasses and helps him select a character on the computer. British predictive keyboard firm SwiftKey contributed software which greatly improved the system’s ability to learn from Hawking to predict his next characters and words so he only has to type less than 20 percent of all characters.

This information is sent to his existing speech synthesizer so he can communicate to others through his Lenovo laptop running Microsoft Windows.

The new toolkit created by Intel can be customised and changed to suit different users. The Intel-created system is a modern software interface for researchers and technologists to create customised solutions enabled by touch, eye blinks, eyebrow movements or other user inputs for communication.

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