Data Analysis and Informatics
The Lab of the Future: Automation in the Digital Age
Digitalization, Automation and Miniaturization currently change the way we live and work. It also affects the daily work in laboratories creating what we perceive as the Lab 4.0 or the Lab of the Future. The disruptive development of new technologies such as open source automation technology, the Internet of Things (IoT) and 3D-printing offer endless possibilities for rapid engineering of new laboratory devices, which are compact, adaptable and smart. In conjunction with automated 3D-image analysis or deep learning algorithms, powerful instruments emerge to create and resolve research data.
At the SmartLab systems department the PetriJet31X hyperloop technology was developed to automate all processes associated with culture dishes in environments such as routine laboratories or culture development for the next generation of antibiotics.
The device technically is a x-y-robot consisting of two linear axles enabled to transport all kinds of culture dishes from A to B through a 3D-printed gripper-system which can also remove the lid of the culture dish. The platform has been extended with a rail system and a small cobot with the ability to transport piles of culture dishes or other laboratory material throughout the lab. Core part of the programming is a self-learning control software that does not need any teaching – the most time-consuming part of setting up a typical robot. With the presented solution an experiment conducted on samples is planned only once and executed for all culture dishes in the machine with the right processing station installed – e. g. 3D sample imaging and analysis. It is no longer necessary to specify locations for culture dish piles and treated dishes get allocated dynamically and drawn e.g. from the incubating chamber while user interactions are directed by LED-lighting. The system can process more than 1.200 culture dishes in an 8-hour shift and is equipped with a storage unit for these culture dishes.
One example of the benefit of the PetriJet hyperloop can be found in routine labs for water and food inspection. Large numbers of samples get incubated on specific medium in culture dishes and are visually inspected regularily. Our system directly receives the tasks from the laboratory information and management system (LIMS), creates job lists and provides analytical data to the lab assistants through the LIMS. The data can then easily be turned into result sheets right from the desk. Unique feature of the system is that it can operate the night shift with no staff present.
The PetriJet31X hyperloop platform now operates at the Chair of Microbiology at the TU Dresden for screening of new antimicrobial substances and the next generation of antibiotics. The system enables biologists to screen agent combinations faster and use the gained image data to feed new deep-learning algorithms.