Intel trying to help Stephen Hawking to keep talking

Intel is apparently working out a way to help British scientist Stephen Hawking talk a bit quicker.

Hawking, who turned 70 this week, suffers from Lou Gehrig’s disease, an incurable degenerative disorder that has left him almost completely paralysed. While an infrared sensor attached to his glasses translates the pulses in his right cheek into words spoken by a voice synthesizer, the nerves in his face have deteriorated and those close to him say his rate of speech has slowed to about a word a minute.

Intel Chief Technology Officer Justin Rattner said his company had a team in England to work out how to help Hawking communicate more quickly.

Rattner told USA Today the team’s task at the moment was to gather data for further study.

Hawking managed to overcome his deteriorating speech for a while by dictating scientific papers to a secretary, or speaking through an interpreter. A computer was built to synthesise his speech in a robotic monotone that has become his trademark.

At first, Hawking retained some limited hand movement and could manage about 15 words a minute, but now that the nerves in Hawking’s cheek are beginning to fade, Rattner thinks that it is time for a new approach perhaps involving brainwaves or eye tracking.

Rattner thinks his best bet is high-definition cameras that pick up on the minute movements in Hawking’s face to synthesise his speech.