Artificial Intelligence: A Robotic Scientist That Works 21.5/7

August 5, 2020 | Artificial Intelligence, News

This new lab assistant at the University of Liverpool conducts experiments by itself.

Work from home has a new meaning for researchers at the University of Liverpool, U.K. – they still can conduct experiments at the university laboratory. There’s a not-so-small difference, however. And it’s an intelligent, 1.75-meter tall robot-scientist that conducts experiments in the lab at their bidding. (World Economic Forum)

The intelligent lab robot at the University of Liverpool

The robot uses AI, a highly flexible arm, and a special gripper to conduct experiments independently. Impervious to COVID, the robot can work 21.5 works a day, all days of the week. (If you’re wondering, it takes 2.5 hours to recharge itself)

It moves around the lab effortlessly, skirts human beings and impediments, and does several lab tasks that would otherwise have required a human being.

Its repertoire: weigh solids, dispense liquids, remove air from vessels, conducting catalytic reactions, and assessing the reaction outputs.

The robot, therefore, frees up the human scientists for more creative and urgent work.

In a trial stint, the robotic assistant could perform 688 experiments over eight days.

Professor Andrew Cooper from the University’s Department of Chemistry and Materials Innovation Factory, who led the project, said: “Our strategy here was to automate the researcher, rather than the instruments.”

COVID applications

“It can work autonomously, so I can run experiments from home,” Ph.D. student Benjamin Burger, who built and programmed the robot, told BBC News. Unsurprisingly, the robot proved invaluable during the COVID lockdowns, carrying out lab tasks on its own.

The robot-scientist has therefore excited a lot of interest from organizations carrying out COVID-19 research. In such cases, the researchers can conduct experiments from a safe distance using the robot, without running the gauntlet of a virus infection.

According to Burger, it was a challenge to build a robot that was robust enough to work for long periods conducting thousands of delicate manoeuvers.

The completed robot makes far fewer mistakes than a human operator, according to Burger.

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Image Credit: University of Liverpool                                                   

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