During December last year, Intel showcased a special project we worked on for renowned English theoretical physicist, cosmologist, author, and director of research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology within the University of Cambridge: Stephen Hawking.
Intel was able to demonstrate for the first time with Professor Hawking an Intel-created open-source communications platform to replace his decades-old system, dramatically improving his ability to communicate with the world.
By studying the acute needs of Hawking, and the very specific relationship between this man and his machine, Intel has delivered a tailored solution -- called ACAT (Assistive Context Aware Toolkit) -- resulting in improved communication for Hawking with the world.
It has the potential to become the backbone of a modern, customisable system other researchers and technologists can use to benefit those who have motor neuron diseases (MND) and quadriplegia.
Professor Hawking is not only known for his work, but also for his MND related to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a condition that has progressed over the years. He is almost entirely paralysed and communicates through technology.
A multidisciplinary team of researchers from Intel Labs has been working for three years with Hawking to replace his current communications system with modern technology. Hawking was instrumental in the design process, providing ongoing feedback to help Intel improve the system with every iteration.
Similar to the parts of an engine interacting smoothly to run a car, the Intel-created software user interface enables existing and new technologies to efficiently work with each other. The result; Hawking's typing speed is twice as fast; and there is a 10x improvement in common tasks, such as easier, more accurate, and faster browsing; editing; managing and navigating the web, emails, and documents; opening a new document; and saving, editing, and switching between tasks.
His existing cheek sensor is detected by an infrared switch mounted to his glasses and helps him select a character on the computer. Integrating software from British language technology company SwiftKey has greatly improved the system's ability to learn from Hawking to predict his next characters and words so he only has to type less than 20 percent of all characters.
This information is sent to his existing speech synthesizer so he can communicate to others through his laptop. For example, to conduct a web search, Hawking previously had to take arduous routes, such as exiting from his communication window, navigating a mouse to run the browser, navigating the mouse again to the search bar, and finally typing the search text. The new system automates all of these steps for a seamless and swift process.
The value Intel sees in using open software extends to the cloud. This is why it has been proactive in making sure open-source solutions for the cloud, ie OpenStack, aren't seen as lacking based on misconceptions of poor technical support, longer implementations, or lack of regulations to control the quality of code.
Intel has a long history of using open-source software for its Design Grid, and now it can add to that list creating open-software as well.