Intel, Stephen Hawking unveil new ACAT platform

December 3, 2014 | 12:36

Tags: #accessibility #communication

Companies: #intel #lenovo

Intel has formally unveiled the next-generation communication and computing system it has developed in partnership with Professor Stephen Hawking, and made a welcome announcement that the platform is to be made available to researchers under an open-access licence.

Noted scientist Hawking has been reliant on a computerised speech-synthesis system for communications due to an aggressive form of motor neurone disease which has left him wheelchair-bound. Developed in the 1970s, Walt Woltosz' 'Words+ Equalizer' has been a lifeline for the professor, and has now been upgraded as part of a three-year project in partnership with Intel. Its replacement, the Assistive Context Aware Toolkit (ACAT), was unveiled this week.

'Medicine has not been able to cure me, so I rely on technology to help me communicate and live,' Hawking explained at the event, using the ACAT system. 'Intel has been supporting me for almost 20 years, allowing me to do what I love every day. The development of this system has the potential to improve the lives of disabled people around the world and is leading the way in terms of human interaction and the ability to overcome communication boundaries that once stood in the way.'

'Professor Hawking uniquely used technology to master communicating with the world for decades, but his old system could be likened to trying to use today's modern apps and websites with a computer without a keyboard or mouse,' claimed Wen-Hann Wang, Intel vice president and Intel Labs managing director. 'Together we've delivered a holistically better communication experience that contributes to his continued independence and can help open the door to increased independence for others.'

The ACAT system replaces Hawking's existing cheek-sensor with an infra-red switch mounted to his glasses which allow him to select characters using a modified version of the SwiftKey smartphone and tablet keyboard interface. The result, Intel claims, is a doubling in his typing speed and a tenfold improvement in general computer interaction with ACAT allowing Hawking to easily browse the web, open and edit documents and emails, and switch between active tasks. The platform is powered by commercial, off-the-shelf hardware - a Lenovo laptop - running Windows.

With three million people suffering from motor neurone disease and quadriplegia globally, Intel has announced that it will be releasing the ACAT platform to researchers under an open-access licence by January next year. The company explains that it can be easily tailored to an individual's requirements, including using touch, eyelid movement, eyebrow movement or other triggers for its activity.

A brief video describing the ACAT system is reproduced below.

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