Intel is hard at work on technology to help Stephen Hawking communicate

Stephen Hawking is widely considered to be one of the most brilliant physicists in the world. The problem for Hawking is that he has a deteriorating medical condition that leaves him progressively unable to control the muscles in his body. Hawking has been confined to a wheelchair due to a degenerative motor neuron disease that he has had for 50 years.

Hawking has communicated via a computer system that enables the physicist to communicate with a digital voice. The problem Hawking is encountering as he loses the control of more muscles of his body is that is existing computer system is becoming too slow for him to use to communicate adequately. Chipmaker Intel has announced that it is developing new communication technology able to quickly process and respond to signals sent from the few muscles Hawking still has the ability to control.

Over the last few years, Hawking has reportedly only been able to communicate at a speed of one word per minute. He's been using involuntary twitch of his cheek muscle to compose words and sentences a single letter at a time that his speech-generating computer can then output. With his current system, a twitch of his cheek stops a cursor that is continuously moving across the screen facing Hawking.

Intel chief technology Officer Justin Rattner has noted that Hawking is able to make a number of facial expressions that could help improve the rate at which he communicates. Rattner believes that giving Hawking two inputs by recognizing these other facial movements could help him communicate using Morse code. Intel is working on a new system that will accept input from Hawking's cheek twitch as well as mouth and eyebrow movements to provide signals to his computer. Intel is also exploring facial recognition technology to help Hawking communicate faster.

[via Scientific American]