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article imageIntel publicly releases code behind Stephen Hawking's voice

By James Walker     Aug 18, 2015 in Technology
Intel has publicly released the code for the software that powers Stephen Hawking's speech engine. It allows developers to go ahead and delve into how it works, opening the gateway to new systems based upon it but expanded by the knowledge of others.
Intel is calling the advanced software package "Assistive Context-Aware Toolkit". It writes that it was developed at Intel Labs to "enable people with motor neurone diseases and other disabilities to have full access to the capabilities and applications of their computers through very constrained interfaces suitable for their condition."
The hardware requirements are fairly basic and anybody with a Windows computer running 7 or newer can go ahead and download it for free today. You need to have a webcam connected but otherwise there are no other specialist requirements.
The software intelligently tracks movements, typically of the face, and then performs actions based on them. In the case of Professor Stephen Hawking, for whom the software was originally created, ACAT tracks the movement of the cheek muscle, allowing the Professor to select words from a display to be read by a speech synthesizer.
The functionality of ACAT can be triggered in many ways. It supports input methods including cameras, laser tracking sensors, push buttons, infrared switches and more. It is designed to be adaptable to the individual requirements of each user.
Intel intends to partner with universities that have the resources to experiment with the system. It is hoped that more innovation in accessible interfaces can be achieved by letting anybody with coding skills learn how the complex software works.
Intel says: "Our hope is that, by open sourcing this configurable platform, developers will continue to expand on this system by adding new user interfaces, new sensing modalities, word prediction and many other features."
The code, with installer, has been published in full on development site GitHub. Although it's not something that an ordinary computer user will have cause to download, its release could herald the development of more open computer interfaces and input methods, giving more people with ALS and similar conditions the opportunity of a voice to be heard with.
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