A software by Intel that lets physicist Stephen Hawking communicate via a computer has been published online by the company in the hopes that it will be used by researchers developing new interfaces for sufferers of diseases like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
The programme interprets visual signals and translates them into words, which are then "spoken" by a machine. Intel originally developed the technology specially for Hawking but it has been used by other sufferers of motor neurone disease (MND). Hawking, 73, suffers from a rare early-onset slow-progressing form of ALS that has gradually paralysed him over the decades.
The Assistive Context-Aware Toolkit (ACAT) helps Hawking communicate by interpreting sensor data capturing movements in his cheek muscles but other parts of the body may be used. Anyone can now download and experiment with the system. Intel hopes that ACAT, which runs on Microsoft Windows 7 or higher, will be used by researchers developing new interfaces for sufferers of diseases like ALS.
The programme and full source code have been published on code-sharing site GitHub. Intel told the BBC that the software can carry out various functions besides sending text to a speech synthesiser. "We have contextual menus to access all different parts of your computer," said Lama Nachman, principal engineer.
"If you want to use Word, surf the web or speak you can use ACAT for that," Nachman said. She added that the team had already experimented with a variety of different sensors, and they are hoping developers will try out other options suited to each patient's needs and abilities.