How Did Stephen Hawking’s Wheelchair Work?

Here at Assurance Mobility, we want to raise awareness about disabilities and wheelchair dependence in order to allow able-bodied people the ability to see life from a different perspective. In this blog, we’ve decided to go over one of the most famous wheelchair users in history, Stephen Hawking, who managed to live a long and successful life despite being diagnosed with Motor Neuron Disease (MND) at 21 years old. Read on as we go over everything there is to know about his one-of-a-kind wheelchair and how it worked…

Motorised Wheelchair

The basic frame of Stephen Hawking’s wheelchair was a traditional motor-powered design. There was a set of batteries at the base that allowed the chair to be manipulated at all times and ensured that the computer system attached was functioning too. The additional personalisation’s were evident in this space because of the USB, audio amplifier and voltage regulator which helped ensure that these systems ran as smoothly as possible. After all, Hawking was reliant on them in order to communicate which gave him his distinctive robotic voice.

IR Sensor

Known for wearing glasses, many people are unaware that these specs actually assisted Stephen Hawking in his ability to use his chair, talk to people and carry out everyday tasks. After all, there was a small infrared sensor embedded into them that was able to detected when he moved his cheek muscles. Due to his lack of mobility, Hawking relied on his cheek muscles in order to communicate and this allowed him to select a letter at a time using an interface called EZ Keys. As of 2016, he was able to type 1-2 words per minute, however scientists had designed a program that analysed his writing style and vocabulary in order to compensate and predict the words that Hawking was most likely to say next.

12” Display Tablet

There were so many alterations to Stephen Hawking’s wheelchair that it required a computer tablet to control it. In fact, he used a Lenovo ThinkPad X230t which had a Core i7 processor. Interestingly, Hawking would also use the display in order to read and compose emails, browse the web, and even use Skype.

Stephen Hawking was given two years to live when he was diagnosed in 1963, however the theoretical physicist managed to live a long-life thanks both his own biological reaction to the disease and the assistance of his specialised wheelchair. Interestingly, one of his chairs sold for almost $400,000 at an auction in 2018! To find out more information about motorised chairs, get in contact with the best wheelchairs Oldham has to offer and speak to a member of the Assurance Mobility team today!