Across the life sciences field, tradeshow events are back in full swing. Conference organizers continue to be careful about precautions to reduce transmission of COVID-19, and we think there will be fewer last-minute cancellations of meetings during the busy fall season compared to last year. Events held this past spring in the laboratory automation field were an indicator of how eager people are for the opportunity to reconnect in person: while attendance didn’t quite reach pre-pandemic levels, it was considerably higher than in 2020 or 2021.
At Biosero, we are excited to get back to some of our favorite fall conferences, and we are especially looking forward to seeing our customers, collaborators, and industry colleagues again in person.
- We are planning to attend the Sample Management Symposium hosted by SLAS in La Jolla, Calif., this month.
- Then, we’ll be at Lab of the Future in Amsterdam in October.
- Next up is Future Labs Live in November in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Key topics at these events are likely to include lab connectivity improvements, augmented reality, and cybersecurity. Like so many others in the laboratory automation space, we are eager to focus on up-and-coming technologies that we believe will be transformative for life science labs.
Here are 5 key technologies we think will have a significant impact on labs in the coming years and will feature heavily in the fall tradeshows.
- Cloud-based software tools: Virtual software will be more and more important for automated laboratory installations, but there are understandable concerns about whether vendor security will adequately protect intellectual property for organizations that use them. As the industry invests in developing these technologies, there will need to be close collaboration with customers and IT professionals to make these tools easily accessible from anywhere in the world, with reliable security at every step. This will be particularly important for customers in the pharmaceutical and biotech field.
- AI and machine learning: These are hot topics in the laboratory automation field. Recently, automation software has been enhanced with AI to support predictive functions, while machine learning has been incorporated to optimize the system’s ability to improve operations based on data. We expect to see many more innovations in this area.
- Data contextualization: With all of the data being collected by AI-powered tools, labs need technology to put it into context for optimal use. Examples of contextual data include environmental factors within the lab and instrument utilization data; these offer a wealth of information that can be critical for troubleshooting, improving reproducibility, and ensuring the best scientific results. Ideally, lab automation software will incorporate all of these data sources to optimize and iterate better processes.
- Visualization tools: In any organization, it’s essential for leadership to have transparency into operations. For lab automation, that’s where data visualization tools come in. They provide analytics for a lab, a research campus, or a global operation — allowing leaders to make data-driven decisions rather than relying on gut feelings. These kinds of tools improve reporting and make it easier to justify expansion plans.
- Mobile robots: These handy robots allow scientists to make the most of their instrumentation and laboratory space. With increasing demand for 24/7 lab operations, mobile robots will be key to increasing productivity without adding personnel shifts or requiring people to work longer hours. Mobile robots can be used to do all the tasks that have to happen around the clock — such as feeding cells or pulling plates out of incubators and reading them — and allow research to go on even without human intervention. These tools will also be useful for overcoming the hurdle of instruments that weren’t designed to run 24/7, such as liquid handlers that don’t hold enough reagents for a full day. If instruments can be mounted on mobile robots, then the liquid handler itself could call for a backup to take its place when it needs to reload.
As we look ahead to 2023, we expect that streamlining workflows for round-the-clock laboratory operations will be essential in many labs. As we ramp up productivity, it will be more critical than ever for the community to adopt laboratory standards, such as the SBS standards we have for microplates. Such standards would make consumables and other components more interoperable and more amenable to automation. We also need standards on the software side, such as for APIs and device drivers, to help reduce friction in the automation process and get new integrations set up without weeks of software development.
We’ll be talking about these issues with the community at the upcoming conferences, and we are eager to contribute to solutions that will help all laboratories for better scientific outcomes.
See you out there!