Surfing The Wierd

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Stephen Hawking - His Marvelous Wheelchair

stephen hawking Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Stephen Hawking's Wheelchair Physicist Stephen Hawking suffers from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. Hawking has near complete paralysis but retains enough muscle control to allow him to press a button with his right hand. A computer screen displays a series of icons that allow control of his wheelchair, doors and appliances in his house. He can select items on the screen by pressing the button when a moving cursor passes over the correct area of the screen.

­Hawking speaks in a similar manner. The screen displays the alphabet, with a cursor moving over it. He presses the button at the appropriate letter. Once he has constructed a complete sentence, he can send the text to the voice synthesizer built into his chair [source: Professor Stephen Hawking]. Hawking’s ability to move a finger on his right hand differentiates him from many other victims of paralysis or disease, who are unable to communicate or interact with control systems at all.


How Stuff Works

the computer
Communication system I communicate with a computer system. I have always used IBM compatible computers, on my wheel chair. They run from batteries under the wheel chair, although an internal battery will keep the computer running for an hour if necessary. The screen is mounted on the arm of the wheel chair where I can see it, more recent systems have the whole computer in a box on this arm. The original systems were put together for me by David Mason, of Cambridge Adaptive Communications. This company manufacture and supply a variety of products to help people with communication problems express themselves. Recently, Intel engineers designed a new computer for me powered by a Pentium II processor, which I now use. On the computer, I run a program called Equalizer™, written by a company called Words Plus inc. A cursor moves across the upper part of the screen. I can stop it by pressing a switch in my hand. This switch is my only interface with the computer. In this way I can select words, which are printed on the lower part of the screen. When I have built up a sentence, I can send it to a speech synthesizer. I use a separate synthesizer, made by Speech+. It is the best I have heard, though it gives me an accent that has been described variously as Scandinavian, American or Scottish. I also can use Windows 98 through an interface called EZ Keys, again made by Words Plus. I am able to control the mouse with the switch through cleverly selected process from a small box shown on the desktop. I can also write text using similar menu's to those in Equalizer. I can save what I write to disk. I write papers using a formatting program called TEX. I can write equations in words, and the program translates them into symbols, and prints them out on paper in the appropriate type. I can also give lectures. I write the lecture beforehand, and save it on disk. I can then send it to the speech synthesiser, a sentence at a time. It works quite well, and I can try out the lecture, and polish it, before I give it.
Stephen Hawking
Recent Improvements Professor Hawking is determined that he is able to keep up with the recent improvements in computer and communication technology. Below are some of the recent improvements, which have been carried out on the system within the last 12 months. Latest Pentium chip In November '03, Professor Hawking was donated a new custom-made mobile computer system by Intel. It is powered by a Centrino Pentium M 1.5GHz chip. With inbuilt wireless, it allows him accesses to the internet throughout his home and office. In non-wireless areas, Intel manage a mobile phone account for us so that Professor Hawking is able to dial in to the Cambridge server from anywhere in the world, via a Nokia laptop card phone. Upgrade to Windows XP To keep up with the times, the new computer is running on Windows XP. For many years it has been impossible to upgrade beyond Windows'98, because Professor Hawking's favourite speech software, Equalizer by Words-Plus, was made many years ago, and was designed to run only on DOS based operating systems. However, Intel has kindly funded the conversion of the software to XP. This involved Words-Plus re-writing the whole program for today’s operating system. Power Due to Professor Hawking's active lifestyle, it is impossible to power his chair computer via the mains as he is never in one place long enough to make this practical. Thus the laptop needs to be powered by a set of slim PowerPad batteries on his chair. The new computer can also be powered directly off his wheelchair motor battery too. Keep talking It is essential that Stephen is able to make use of a telephone. He is able to use either his laptop mobile card phone, or connect his chair computer directly to a telephone socket. The process works by sending digital commands from his computer instructing the phone system to dial a number, answer the phone or hang up at the end of a call. Who's got the remote? Stephen has a universally programmable infra-red remote control attached directly to his computer system. This enables him to operate many of the electronic items in his home, such as televisions, video recorders and music centres. He also has a radio control device which enables him to open doors and operate lights throughout his home. He is now also able to operate doors within his workplace. With the opening of the newly built Centre for Mathematical Sciences, he will be able to get about the building virtually unassisted.



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