The photo above is of Travis Bonifield, who works directly with Hawking, Rob Weatherly, who provides IT support for Hawking, and Sam Blackburn, Hawking’s grad assistant. And of course, Hawking himself.
When you’ve defied the medical odds and lived 50 years longer than what medical experts said, devised some of the most important theories in physics and cosmology, and become a multi-million book selling author, then maybe you can have your PC’s delivered to you by Intel personally. Until then we can get a small glimpse into the relationship Stephen Hawking has developed with PC component manufacturer, Intel.
This story begins in 1997, when Hawking was working with AMD to help him with his custom PC needs, due to the motor neuron disease which left him with very little physical functionality. According to Travis Bonifield, the Intel application engineer who works with Hawking personally, the relationship began when Intel’s Co-Founder, Gordon Moore spoke personally with Hawking, “Stephen and Gordon met at a conference around 1997. Gordon noted that Stephen was using an AMD machine. Gordon asked Stephen, ‘Would you like to use an Intel computer moving forward? We’d be happy to build that for you and support it.‘ ”
If you’re wondering what’s powering Hawking’s latest PC, which is updated every 2 years, he’s sporting a Lenovo X220 tablet PC, with an Intel Core i7 processor. What’s really cool about the custom build is how it recognizes Hawking’s commands for his voice synthesizer.
Originally, Hawking would use a clicker which he could highlight various commands or words and then communicate them through the synthesizer. However, the nerve which allowed him the use of his thumbs would degrade which required Intel to devise a new solution. They eventually developed an infrared sensor which hangs off of Hawking’s glasses. The sensor detects light changes as he twitches his cheek, and allows him to select commands. Which is amazing. Watch it in action below.
Bonifield has been working with Hawking since 2001, when he took over the position from a previous engineer. One aspect of the job is having to deliver the PC’s from America to England, where Hawking lives. Bonifield mentions one of the less than glorious aspects of the project, “I actually take two systems out to Stephen [one is a backup]. One year I packed them in cases, checked them in as luggage and the airlines lost them for three days. The year after that I thought I’d ship them ahead of time. They got held up in customs for 3 days. This time I got lucky. My luggage showed up with me [laughs].”
Below is a photo of Bonifield holding up a replica of the custom PC he developed for Hawking, and a video of Hawking’s grad assistant installing it.