Intel has reinvented the speech and text communication systems used by Professor Stephen Hawking, and plans to release the software as an open source project in 2015.
The Assistive Context Aware Toolkit has helped to double Hawking's speech and text input times, and make it up to 10 times faster for him to open files, switch between applications and browse the web.
Hawking said at an event attended by V3 that the Intel developments are "life-changing" for him.
"The Intel team and I have been working for three years on upgrading my communication systems. My old system is more than 20 years old and I find it very difficult to communicative effectively and do the things I love to do.
"With the improvement I am now able to write much faster and I can continue to give lectures, write papers and books and speak with friends and family more easily.
"This new system is life-changing for me and I hope it will serve me well for the next 20 years."
Intel began work on the project three years ago when Hawking contacted the firm's founder, Gordon Moore, to ask for help in improving his then-current system, also developed by Intel, as it was starting to slow him down.
Intel set about watching and analysing Hawking's requirements to understand where improvements could be made to the software, such as reducing the number of steps needed to carry out basic functions.
One major improvement is a new system making it far easier for Hawking to access files, as Lama Nachman, principal engineer and manager of the Anticipatory Computing Lab at Intel Labs, explained.
"Interacting with a computer relies heavily on using a mouse, but for someone unable to move a mouse around it becomes a very cumbersome process," she said.
"So we designed a new file manager from scratch, but similar to the usual interface he has, so he can search and open documents. This has reduced the time it takes from as much as three minutes to 10 seconds."
Reduced typing time
Intel also worked with Swiftkey to improve Hawking's keyboard by offering more relevant suggestions as he types. This involved using a corpus of his work to create a database from which to offer suggestions.
This means that if Hawking is working on a particular document the software will suggest names or theories that appear earlier in the piece.
Pete Denman, user experience designer at Intel, said that these improvements have a big impact for Hawking as it reduces the effort required simply to use his machine and allows more time to focus on his work.
"If we reduce the amount of steps he has to take, that increases the amount of work he can do," he said.
Nachman explained that Intel went through around 35 iterations of the system with Hawking, often redesigning elements based on his feedback.
One aspect of the system that has not changed is the voice, which has become synonymous with Hawking. "He was actually adamant about us not changing his voice," said Nachman.
The new software will be made open source next year, but Swiftkey said that its involvement in the project will not be included as the technology is too similar to its core product.
However, Intel said that its own text prediction system will be included in the release. The firm hopes that others will make improvements or refinements to the system for the specific needs of people around the world.
For more information on mobility, visit the Intel IT Center.
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