Intel assistive robotic arm image
Credit: Intel

Technology giant Intel has partnered with multinational professional services company Accenture to assist a pioneering research project that aims to develop an affordable wheelchair-mounted robotic arm to help paediatric wheelchair users perform daily tasks.

Intel and Accenture are supporting an Intel Neuromorphic Research Community (INRC) project led by the Neuro-Biomorphic Engineering Lab at the Open University of Israel in collaboration with ALYN Hospital.

Using funding and technology support from Accenture, as well as Intel’s neuromorphic technology and algorithmic support from Applied Brain Research (ABR), the Israeli research teams will develop a wheelchair-mounted robotic arm to assist patients with spinal injuries in performing daily tasks.

The device will be clinically evaluated and tested with children at ALYN Hospital.

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According to Intel, this new research project is important because assistive devices can help wheelchair users with neuromuscular or spinal cord injuries to carry out daily tasks that might otherwise be difficult for them, such as drinking from a cup or eating with a spoon.

However, whilst wheelchair-mounted robotic arms can help increase independence for wheelchair users whilst simultaneously reducing the need for a carer, assistive robotic devices can be very expensive to produce and purchase due to the high-tech components, Intel notes.

Intel emphasises that the real-time learning capability of its neuromorphic research chip, Loihi, shows potential to reduce the cost of creating and operating such devices, making this research project important.

By using Loihi’s real-time learning capabilities, researchers predict that it could enhance the robotic arm’s functionality, while using affordable parts to make the device more accessible to wheelchair users.

Intel adds that Loihi could require less frequent charging, also making it a more practical solution for wheelchair users.

Intel assistive robotic arm for wheelchair users image
Credit: Intel

Edy Liongosari, Technology Innovation Growth and Strategy Lead and Chief Research Scientist at Accenture, said: “This research project is a powerful demonstration of the impact that neuromorphic computing can have on the development of affordable intelligent assistive devices.

“Making these devices accessible, particularly to such young patients, can have a profound impact on their independence, improving the way they live. We are looking forward to teaming closely with the Open University of Israel researchers, ALYN and Intel, contributing our technical and industry experience to advance this technology for those who need it the most.”

If the research project is successful, the research team plans to explore how to produce this assistive robotic arm for wheelchair users.

“We believe that the development of a robotic arm based on neuromorphic computing can be a game-changer for people with disabilities. It could make it easier for them to engage with the community, boost their independence and grant them new employment opportunities,” added Arie Melamed-Yekel, General Manager of ALYNnovation at ALYN. “The expected cost and performance improvements are potentially disruptive to this market.”

Intel and Accenture will also continue to collaborate to identify and fund additional neuromorphic research that has the potential to advance the field.

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