The software Stephen Hawking uses to talk to the world is now free

For almost 20 years, Intel has been building technology to help Stephen Hawking communicate with the world -- and now the company is making the same software the world renowned physicist uses to write books, give speeches and talk available to everybody. For free.

It's called the Assistive Context-Aware Toolkit (ACAT), and it's the very same software Intel baked Swiftkey into for Hawkings early last year. Releasing it as open source software was always the plan, giving engineers, developers and researchers a groundwork they can use to create technology that improves the lives of patients with motor neuron disease and other conditions that make using typical computer interfaces impossible.

Right now ACAT uses webcam-based face recognition for user control, but Intel says developers can augment it with custom inputs. As is, it still works pretty well: I installed it on a Windows tablet for a quick test run and was able to type simple words by flexing my face muscles in the same manner as Professor Hawking -- patiently waiting for the ACAT system to highlight the menu, letter or predictive text word I wanted before moving my cheek. The system can also open documents, browse the web and gives users surprisingly precise cursor control.

The base software is available for free on Github, and Intel is hosting a separate site with documentation, videos on features and compatible sensors and a detailed manual to help users get started. If you're having trouble, you can even contact the project's lead directly (his email is published on the ACAT website) for help. All in all, the project's public release is a great step forward to achieving Professor Hawking's dream of making connected wheelchair and assistive computer technology to every person that needs it.

Check out the project's official Git.Hub page or Intel's project page at the source link below.

[Top image credit: Jason Bye / Alamy]