Intel has unveiled a new communications platform, ACAT, which it designed alongside renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, who is afflicted with a motor neuron disease similar to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
The ACAT platform, which stands for Assistive Context Aware Toolkit, is a free and open-source program that can be customized to fit the needs of users with motor neuron diseases or quadriplegia. The platform will be made available to researchers and technologists in January 2015.
Hawking, who is nearly completely paralyzed, has been using an electronic communications system for decades to maintain his independence despite his worsening disabilities. His longstanding relationship with Intel led to the collaboration on the new platform, which simplifies tasks like searching the Web, creating and saving a document, and writing email. The platform uses sensors and technology from language company SwiftKey to help predict characters and words, which also improves typing speed. The text is then fed to Hawking’s speech synthesizer so he can outwardly communicate.
But Hawking is just the first of many people that Intel hopes to help with its new platform. The free toolkit can be customized to be enabled by touch, eye blinks, eyebrow movements, and other inputs to help people with neuromuscular disorders and other disabilities better communicate and live more independently.