NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- In its latest effort to combat motor neuron diseases that have afflicted such people as leading astrophysicist Prof. Stephen Hawking, Intel (INTC) plans to release its newly designed communications software to the public in January.
For the past three years, Intel has worked with Hawking, who suffers from the degenerative disease that has slowly paralyzed the professor. Currently, only his facial muscles are operable and are used for the communications software system. The professor, who was recently the subject of the movie "The Theory of Everything," approached the chip maker with a request to improve the communications software system he had been using for decades.
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Under his old communications system, Hawking had gotten to the point where he could type only one word a minute and would need the assistance of others to perform such tasks as attaching a file to an email, or opening documents and programs on his computer. But after working with Hawking and treating him like a living scientific experiment, Intel began to understand Hawking's pain points with the existing system and was able to greatly improve his typing rate and give him greater independence when working with his communications system.
"Professor Hawking has been using a system that dates back two decades and it's based on switching and scrolling an array of letters displayed on a screen via a switch that's attached to his eyeglasses," Horst Haussecker, principal engineer at the Intel Computational Imaging Lab, said in an interview with TheStreet. "He can no longer precisely select these letters due to the worsening of the disease, so we now allow him to control his entire computer system, providing contextual information for any application."
Intel designed the Assistive Context Aware Toolkit, which has various software packages designed to improve the way Hawking's communications system operates. For example, in the past, if Hawking typed the wrong letter on his computer, it would suggest several words but they would be wrong because it was based on the wrong letter. With the new software, it's smarter and will detect that Hawking had typed the wrong letter and offer up correct words. The technology is similar to that used in smartphones when texting or sending emails. Intel teamed up with SwiftKey to provide that feature to the professor.