Intel Open Sources Stephen Hawking’s Voice System
Now, YOU can sound like Stephen Hawking! How cool is that?!
Wired – “In December 2014, Intel revealed that it had been working with Professor Stephen Hawking to create a new system to help him communicate and interact with the world around him. In an unprecedented move, the company also announced that it would be opening up the platform to the international research community so that it could be adapted for the three million people suffering from motor neurone disease and quadriplegia.
‘As we started to work on this, we realised that we could also impact a larger group of people,’ says Lama Nachman, speaking at WIRED Health in London about developing the platform.
Nachman points out that redesigning Hawking’s system wasn’t about providing more computer power, but finding a way to enhance the system he was using in a way that would allow him to enjoy the same experiences he had become used to. ‘He wasn’t interested in something revolutionary; he wanted something similar to what he had but that could solve a lot of problems,’ says Nachman.
The team at Intel was faced with the challenge of changing the software interface without making it unfamiliar. ‘If you think about a Windows system or any graphical interface it assumes people can easily move around,’ says Nachman. ‘When you are using mouse simulation that is clearly not the case.’
The team spent time with Hawking and his carers so as to understand how he used his system. ‘We’ve come to understand all of these common functions that he does on a daily basis,’ says Nachman. From there the researcher managed to reduce the number of interactions it took to complete a simple task, turning opening a file from a three- or four-minute operation to a ten-second operation.
Professor Hawking has spoken extensively to WIRED about the development of his assistive context aware toolkit and what a difference it has made to him, but Intel realised the technology had much broader implications.
‘In the process, what we recognised [is that] we had to make a system that was very configurable,’ says Nachman. The team realised, she adds, ‘if we actually open source that system it will enable researchers to bring their solutions to the community’.
The assistive context aware toolkit is now an open-source project that allows Intel to work with researchers and understand how it can enhance the system. Nachman believes that it will help to bridge the gap between assistive technologies and the general public. Computing has been transformed over recent years from being a destination to ‘something you can carry with you everywhere, and as a result has needed to adapt to some of our own disabilities’.
Until now, assistive technologies have not really utilised the economies of scale she says, but the work that Intel has done with Stephen Hawking shows that ‘people can create assistive healthcare technologies without reinventing the wheel’.”