Stephen Hawking is a British scientist who lives with ALS, a motor neuron disease that has rendered him almost completely paralyzed. Over the years he has lost the ability to speak, and he has communicated through a speech synthesizer for over 20 years. Certainly, you've heard him speak through this synthesizer before.
Of course, after using the same system for two decades, someone figured that it could use an update. Modern software and hardware is much more capable than it was 20 years ago, and naturally, it would be a waste not to use the advancements. Hawking's new system is co-developed by Intel in collaboration with SwiftKey, and it's much faster than the old computer. Hawking can now type twice as fast and needs to type only 20 percent of all characters. Doing common tasks, such as browsing the Web or managing documents, saving them, or other similar tasks, can now be done 10 times faster than before, too.
With the old system, Hawking had to navigate a computer desktop with a mouse, the way you and I do, without actually using a mouse. Understandably, that's not the most efficient way to go about. It was clumsy, and there was a clear need for a more intuitive user interface.
"Medicine has not been able to cure me, so I rely on technology to help me communicate and live," said Hawking. "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."
Hawking's new system is called ACAT, which is short for Assistive Context Aware Toolkit. Intel and SwiftKey have also decided to give it away for free, allowing other researchers to expand on it and letting other potential users reap the benefits, too.