Stephen Hawking’s communications software now open source

19 Aug 2015

The software that allows Professor Stephen Hawking to communicate with the world is now open source and available for anyone to use of play around with – free of charge.

The ‘assisitive context-aware toolkit’ (ACAT) was developed at Intel Labs specifically for Professor Stephen Hawking who, according to Intel, “was instrumental to the design process and was a key contributor to the project design and validation”.

ACAT enables people with motor neurone disease, which Hawking has, and other disabilities, to use their computers through very constrained interfaces suitable for their condition – in Hawking’s case it reads the movement of his cheek muscle.

This allows users to manage documents, surf the internet and access emails — but perhaps most importantly it allows them to communicate with others through keyboard simulation, word prediction and speech synthesis.

Intel hopes that making the software open source will allow developers to expand on the platform by adding new user interfaces, sensing modalities and other features to help those with disabilities.

At the moment, to use ACAT, you simply need a webcam, as it uses visual cues on your face to understand commands, however, part of the reason for making the software open source is the hope that it will be able to be customised to allow for other types of input.

“We have been busy building different sensors and trying this out with patients,” Intel principal engineer Lama Nachman told Wired.

“The goal of open sourcing this is to enable developers to create solutions in the assistive space with ease, and have them leverage what we have invested years of effort in,” Nachman added.

The software will run on Windows machines only (sorry Apple users) and can be downloaded on GitHub.

Main image via Danor Aharon/ Shutterstock

Brigid O Gorman is a former sub-editor of Silicon Republic.