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Unleashing the Potential of Autonomous Mobile Technology in the Laboratory

Autonomous mobile robots are revolutionizing automation and enhancing efficiency

by Omron
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Talia, a molecular biologist, often found herself clocking in extra hours at the lab, even after their investment into lab automation solutions. With a critical deadline looming, she was juggling multiple experiments, leaving her fearful that the quality of her work may be compromised. Talia dreamt of a lab where the gaps left by their existing automation systems could be filled, freeing her up to focus on what she truly enjoyed—making groundbreaking discoveries and advancing her research.

Many scientists share Talia’s dream. Researchers worldwide face the challenge of navigating complex and time-sensitive tasks while working to free themselves from monotonous tasks. Despite automation technology advances, this challenge persists due to the increased demand for quicker and higher-quality results. While traditional automation methods like task targeted automation (TTA) and total laboratory automation (TLA) have worked to fill this gap, they have limitations.

The good and bad of TTA and TLA

Introducing lab automation has many benefits, including reduced manual labor, decreased lab congestion, improved traceability, and enhanced testing quality. To achieve these benefits, labs have historically relied on TTA and TLA.

TTA has a stand-alone design—which increases flexibility—and focuses on automating specific steps in the scientific process, such as preparing samples for analysis. While it excels at streamlining these steps, it often leaves gaps in the workflow that require manual intervention, like the transport of samples and equipment monitoring.

With TLA, multiple pre- and post-analytical steps are automated and physically linked as modular systems or through assembly lines. This improves traceability and decreases manual work compared to TTA. TLA systems are expensive and difficult to install, modify, and scale, which can be an issue for facilities with a lower budget. Space requirements and infrastructure can also be problematic when new space or renovations aren't possible, as the configuration must be designed around the local environment. Additionally, lab automation hardware and software are not standardized across vendors, which can lead to connection challenges.

While both systems can be beneficial, the dynamic nature of scientific research calls for a more flexible, cost-efficient, and integrated system that can evolve with your research.

Breaking the mold

Autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) present an improved solution for the lab automation gap. AMRs can move independently without tracks or paths, saving deployment costs. These robots can also be outfitted with robotic arms to form a highly flexible mobile robot solution connecting TTA workstations within and between labs to create a seamless workflow. This connection enables labs to optimize their equipment and space usage, removing the need for duplicate setups. As a result, employing an AMR is a practical and cost-effective option for dynamic lab environments.

Integrating an AMR in your lab paves the way for increased walkaway time. Once programmed, they will operate independently, performing routine tasks that would otherwise require manual intervention. This frees researchers to focus on innovation and scientific discovery. But they don't clock out when you do. These robots are designed to work around the clock with self-charging functionality, effectively creating a third shift. The net effect is an overall increase in productivity, efficiency, and throughput.

These robots offer a solution to the rigidity often seen in traditional lab automation systems like TLA. AMRs can be easily integrated into existing infrastructure with minimal adjustments, reducing the overall time and financial investment. This increased flexibility also means that labs can grow and evolve without worrying about their automation technology.

The future of the life sciences industry

The life sciences industry is facing a multitude of challenges, from high employee turnover rates to an ongoing shortage of technical and skilled staff. These factors, coupled with increasing competition for lab and research space, could slow scientific discovery. However, AMRs offer an effective solution.

Beyond closing operational gaps, AMRs fundamentally transform how a lab functions. By optimizing laboratory workflows and cutting redundant setups, AMRs deliver a higher return on investment for labs. Essentially, they remove bottlenecks that impede the development of new medicines, diagnostics, and other scientific discoveries.

The new flexibility that mobile robotics provides in lab automation also allows life science institutions to quickly shift priorities when needed.

But what does this mean in practical terms? Commercial labs can increase throughput without compromising quality. For researchers, it results in more walkaway time that can be spent on complex tasks. AMRs seamlessly integrate into life sciences labs, ensuring scalability and adaptability.

It is also crucial to consider the human element. With AMRs taking on repetitive tasks, scientists like Talia can finally focus on their true passions, driving innovation and discovery. This could significantly reduce burnout and increase job satisfaction among lab staff, addressing the industry's high turnover rates.

Innovative mobile robot solutions

A collaboration between Omron Automation and Biosero created an innovative mobile robot solution that makes workflow automation practical and affordable. This joint effort pairs Omron's LD-90 self-navigating AMR and MobilePlanner software with Biosero's Green Button Go lab scheduling software to create an adaptive, scalable, and easily integrated automation system.

This integration between robot and software provides seamless navigation and transportation of lab resources. The AMR can also change directions without human intervention, removing the need for modifications as your lab changes.

The automation not only removes repetitive tasks—creating walkaway time—but also allows analysis to continue in the off-hours. This capability allows continuous sample processing and lets scientists and technicians redirect their focus toward more critical tasks, increasing productivity and reducing costs. In one test, it transported labware 600 times in 11 hours.

AMRs offer a roadmap for a more efficient and flexible future where the focus shifts from monotonous tasks to groundbreaking research. The collaboration between Omron and Biosero stands as a prime example of this transformative power in action. Their integrated system addresses several pressing challenges, from workflow optimization to resource utilization, setting a new precedent for what can be achieved in the lab.

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Top Image:
Credit: Biosero
Top Image:
Credit: Biosero