Stephen Hawking's Wheelchair—In Detail!

Professor and wheelchair user Stephen Hawking is known for two things. The first is that he is the most brilliant physicist since Einstein, and he's crafted a set of basic laws that govern everything we know about the universe. He holds more awards and medals than can be counted, with twelve honorary degrees in addition to his earned degrees.

The second thing for which Hawking is known is his disability, a motor neurone disease which causes him to require the use of a custom electric wheelchair and specialized voice module to get around and communicate. In fact, as sad as it may be, this second aspect may be more what defines Hawking in the eyes of the general public than his brilliance. Hawking, who was paralyzed by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, at the age of 21, would not mind discussing the wheelchair, however, which has to be a brilliant design to be worthy of the man. Hawking's chair uses the type of predictive text technology to which we have become accustomed with our smart phones, but he's had it since 1997, and it's leaps and bounds ahead of what we all use on a daily basis. Hawking can move a cursor across a screen and stop it to type by a minuscule movement of his cheek which is detected by infrared sensors in his glasses. Once he has typed two letters in this manner, the predictive text kicks in and allows him to select full words. When he completes a sentence, he sends the text to a speech synthesizer which can imitate American, Scandinavian, or Scottish accents. In addition, the same technology allows him to use a mouse to operate an entire computer mounted to his wheelchair. He can talk with people, read, write, email, and Skype in this manner. He browses the web using Firefox, and he uses Eudora for email. The Intel i7 processor even allows him to video conference. Hawking updates and upgrades his equipment regularly, as you might expect. In fact, Intel has a dedicated team of computer engineers always working to improve the facial recognition technology that Hawking relies upon to express his thoughts and do his work. Though it's most likely to be upgraded in the future, Professor Hawking's current set-up includes:
  • Lenovo Thinkpad X220 tablet computer
  • Intel Core i7-262OM CPU at 2.7 Ghz processor
  • Intel, 150 GB Solid-State Drive 520 Series
  • Window OS
  • Speech Synthesizers (3 variants)
  • Manufacturer—Speech Plus
  • Model—Call Text 5010
The chair, like the man, is ingenious and only seems to get better with each passing year. Professor Hawking may be confined to a wheelchair, but he certainly doesn't let that confine his ability to understand the cosmos and share his knowledge with the world. Check out his sky-high-tech wheelchair and watch Professor Hawking display his acting chops on the sitcom "Big Bang Theory!" Image Sources: AMS Vans, Mobility Van Dealer