The software that Stephen Hawking uses to speak via a synthesized voice on his computer has been released freely on the internet. Its creators, Intel, hope that it can now be used in research to create interfaces that similar sufferers of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) can use.
The Assistive Context-Aware Toolkit (ACAT) system has been released on Github, complete with a user guide. It allows researchers to develop communication systems where minimal input is needed. Hawking’s system, for example, relies solely on him moving a muscle in his cheek to type and use his computer. Hawking’s latest system was installed last year, which doubled his typing rate and improved his use of other computer functions by ten times.
ACAT works with any computer running Windows XP or above. It needs to be used with hardware to input commands, which could include a webcam, accelerometers or proximity sensors. While intended for research, anyone is free to download and install ACAT at the moment. There may yet be some other applications for the software in the future.
“Helping maintain communication for someone with MND could be as simple as using a pen and paper,” Karen Pearce, Director of Care for the MND Association, told BBC News. “But as the disease progresses people often lose the use of their hands too. That's when cutting edge Augmentative and Alternative Communication, or AAC, aids can help but it's vital speech and language therapists look at the best options for families.”