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NBEL is the Neuro-Biomorphic Engineering Lab at The Open University of Israel. It is developing an affordable and energy-efficient robotic arm with adaptive control capabilities to support the independence of wheelchair users in the execution of everyday tasks, such as eating, drinking, reaching or picking up objects. The wheelchair-mounted robotic arm is powered by neuromorphic computing, an advanced technology that uses specialized chips with an architecture that mimics the structure of the brain, making it up to 1,000 times more energy efficient than traditional processors.

Many powered wheelchair users also struggle with upper limb function and could benefit from the use of wheelchair-mounted robotic arms, which have been shown to increase independence and reduce the need for caregiver assistance. They are connected to the wheelchair's side or tray table, and powered by the wheelchair's battery to make it mobile. This puts natural limits on its battery life, as it competes for electricity with the wheelchair's normal functions. Current devices on the market cost around $35,000, which is prohibitive for most people in wheelchairs.

Thanks to direct support from Intel Labs and Accenture Labs, NBEL has become one of only a handful of non-tech giants in the world to be provided access to Loihi, Intel's neuromorphic computing chip with real-time learning capabilities. Leveraging more affordable hardware components, an algorithm that improves over time, and significantly lower energy consumption, means the cost of the NBEL robotic arm could as low as half its price today.. This would make it feasible to include in government subsidized assistive equipment and healthcare packages. While the current solution is controlled by the wheelchair's joystick, thus limiting the need for additional components, future research will explore human-machine interface controls, such as eye gaze technology, to cater to users with severely limited movement.