Engineers have built a robot scientist which is able to conduct experiments independently

Service Engineering

Engineers at Liverpool University have built an exceptional mobile robot scientist, able to move throughout a laboratory and carry out experiments by itself. The system, which can make its own choices and move autonomously around the laboratory, is based on a Kuka collaborative robot.

The robot, which works with tools designed for human operation, uses a mixture of touch feedback coupled with laser scanning for positioning, rather than a vision system.

“Engineers at Liverpool University have built an exceptional mobile robot scientist, able to move throughout a laboratory and carry out experiments by itself.“

Furthermore, the robot conducted six-hundred and eighty-eight experiments over eight days and worked for one-hundred and seventy-two out of one-hundred and ninety-two hours. Within this time, it completed six-thousand and five-hundred manipulations, three-hundred and nineteen movements and travelled two-point-seventeen kilometres. Also, the robot carried out tasks, alone, including dispensing liquids, weighing out solids, running the catalytic reaction, removing air from the vessel and quantifying the reaction products.

The robot can navigate a ten-dimensional space of more than ninety-eight million candidate experiments, using its brain, allowing it to decide the best test to do next based on the previous results. By doing this, the robot discovered a catalyst that is six times more active, with no supervision needed from the investigation team.

Dr Benjamin Burger, a Liverpool University PhD student who programmed the robot, stated: “The biggest challenge was to make the system robust. To work autonomously over multiple days, making thousands of delicate manipulations, the failure rate for each task needs to be very low. But once this is done, the robot makes far fewer mistakes than a human operator.”

Project led, Professor Andrew Cooper from the University’s Department of Chemistry and Materials Innovation Factory, Liverpool, stated: “Our strategy here was to automate the researcher, rather than the instruments. This creates a level of flexibility that will change both the way we work and the problems we can tackle. This is not just another machine in the lab, it’s a new superpowered team member and it frees up time for the human researchers to think creatively.”

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