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Intel releases Stephen Hawking’s Speech System as Free and Open Source

Stephen Hawking, the world-renowned theoretical physicist, found his voice in 1997. It was at this time that he partnered selectively with Intel to create his unique computer system that allows him to communicate. And now, thanks to Intel, many more people with physical disabilities will be able to communicate too.

Professor Hawking was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) at the age of 21, which slowly paralyzed him and rendered him to a wheelchair. As he lost the ability to use his muscles, it was uncertain if he would ever be able to communicate again.

In 1997, Intel designed a speech computer system that was integrated into Professor Hawking’s wheelchair. Utilizing Text-to-Speech functionality, Stephen Hawking could express his brilliant thoughts and ideas.

 Stephen Hawking uses NeoSpeech text to speech

Stephen Hawking and his Intel-designed Speech System

The source code and programming code for Stephen Hawking’s speech technology have been closely guarded secrets by the proprietary laws forged by Intel in 1997 – until now.

Yesterday, in an interview with Bloomberg, Intel announced their plans to make Stephen Hawking’s speech system open source. This could dramatically change the lives of people with a range of physical disabilities, including others with ALS. 

 

How Stephen Hawking’s Speech System Works

Stephen Hawking’s Speech System is comprised of 3 main parts:

  1.  An infrared sensor on his glasses that detects movement of a single cheek muscle.
  2.  A software platform that allows Professor Hawking to navigate the system without using his hands.
  3.  Text-to-Speech functionality that takes the texts he writes and turns it into speech.


Every time Professor Hawking moves his cheek, the infrared sensor on his glasses senses his movement and triggers a signal that goes to a software platform. The software platform allows him to do a range of tasks, such as using a virtual keyboard interface or moving a mouse. Once he has typed something he would like to be announced, the Text-to-Speech (TTS) software converts the text into audible speech in his iconic voice.

 

Why make this technology Open Source?

By making this technology open source, anyone with a computer, motivation and an idea can make improvements.

Prior to releasing the technology as open source, an inventor that is not associated with Intel would have to design the speech computer platform from scratch. Now, with all of Intel’s hard work out in the open for all to see, small improvements to the technology can be made without having to start again.

This should increase the rate of improvement of the software and hardware, which will result in better quality and more accessible technology. People can now design accompanying software programs that can be added to the existing software or take the current design and create something more efficient or effective.

 

Who could this technology help?

This opens a world of possibilities for those with physical disabilities, especially those with ALS. Over three million people are affected by Motor Neuron Disease and Quadriplegia throughout the world. This technology could be adapted to allow many of them to communicate. Different functions can be activated by touch, blinking, eyebrow movements and other subtleties that can sensed by an infrared sensor. Learn more.

 

Stephen Hawking’s Text-to-Speech

In 2004, Stephen Hawking chose NeoSpeech to produce his new voice. Using our VoiceText™ Text-to-Speech Software, Professor Hawking could communicate clearly with the outside world.

“As a scientist and lecturer, it is imperative that Professor Hawking presents his findings in a clear and concise manner,” Tom Pelly said, Hawking’s technical assistant, according to SpeechTech Magazine. “Professor Hawking was very impressed by NeoSpeech’s speech synthesizer, as it was by far the most natural-sounding and realistic of all of the off-the-shelf software voices that he has heard. This technology can help ensure that his vocals match his research in terms of credibility and believability.”

Since then, there have been vast improvements in TTS technology, but we are looking forward to seeing the exciting developments that come out of making Professor Hawking’s speech system open source.

Get the source code here. 

 

Let us know what you think

Are you excited to see the developments that come from making this technology open source? Do you know anyone who is working on speech technology project? We’d love to hear all about it! Contact us at marketing@neospeech.com.

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    September 11, 2015 at 5:47 pm Reply

    Thanks to everyone who read and commented on this blog post – it’s fantastic to hear from you! Looking forward to seeing how this technology improves now that it is open source, and we will hopefully do a blog post on developments in the future. Stay tuned!

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