How to decide if mobile robots are right for your lab

July 20, 2022  |  Technology

To sum up the benefits of mobile robots, it’s that they’re flexible. And because of their flexibility, mobile robots are a great choice for labs where research and development processes change regularly or even labs that want to transport materials between rooms or buildings. Conveyor belts simply can’t pass materials up an elevator to reach another lab, for example, but a mobile robot can do it with a little setup.

In this blog post, we’ll walk through the best use cases for mobile robots and what it takes to bring one or many to your lab.

In our last post, we introduced the topic of mobile robots and talked about why they are a significant step forward in providing flexible transportation options for microplates, consumables, and more. If you aren’t familiar with mobile robots yet or want a refresher, we recommend that you check that post out first.

An intro to mobile robots and why they are useful in the lab

Is a mobile robot a good fit for my lab?

Different labs demand different things from their automation. We’ve worked extensively with two sides of a familiar binary: production labs that are optimizing for efficiency and research labs that are optimizing for ever-changing experiments. Mobile robots can fit into either style but make a natural fit for labs that have specific needs around flexibility, connectivity, and productivity.

Here’s where we think that mobile robots offer the quickest return on investment:

  • Labs that need to maximize workflow flexibility: At times, you may need to run a single experiment repeatedly with lots of samples. At other times, you may need to run different assays with fewer samples. Some labs must be able to pivot depending on the research need, and trying to build a single platform that meets all your needs may not be the most effective solution. A mobile robot paired with Green Button Go, for example, can easily switch gears as needed. You can even task mobile robots to keep samples moving from one workstation to the next around the clock, whether you are running the same experiments as usual or different ones.
  • Labs that want to reclaim time using automation without extensive track or conveyor-based systems: The lab can be a busy place! There’s little value in having scientists spend their time transporting samples from storage to the bench or between instruments when that task can be delegated to a mobile robot. Think of mobile robots as collaborators who handle the repetitive tasks so that scientists can spend their time on more important things, like thinking about the next steps for the research and designing new experiments. And mobile robots can do all that without being tied to a transportation system that behaves like a railroad, requiring traffic only on fixed and prepared pathways. A mobile robot is more like a semi-truck hauling loads on regular roads and working well with other drivers (people!).
  • Labs that want a new approach to keep up with the market: Scientists are under pressure to incorporate the latest scientific advances into their processes. Modern systems that are more flexible and easier to use help meet the research demands for new therapies and treatments. Investing in newer, innovative systems with better usability is a good way to meet these goals. Mobile robots are easy to deploy and incorporate into lab workflows, connecting workcells, stand-alone equipment, and manual lab bench tasks. With the addition of Green Button Go, you can orchestrate your larger laboratory workflow schedule and visualize everything at once. You don’t even have to launch an entirely new infrastructure in your lab to see the benefits.

What do I need to know to implement a mobile robot in my lab?

If you’re thinking that mobile robots might be a good fit for your lab, here’s what you need to know to implement them. We’ve put these tips together after launching mobile robots for a broad range of customers, and the principles apply to everyone.

  • Review suppliers: Create a list of suppliers offering autonomous mobile robots that align with your needs. Evaluate each supplier’s history and the success of their robots in the field by reading reviews or publications and talking to existing customers if possible. Doing due diligence ahead of time will save resources and prevent problems down the road.
  • Set a budget: Calculate the actual costs of implementing mobile robots, not just the cost of the mobile robot itself. Think about how many robots you need, as well as any associated costs with running and maintaining the fleet. Consider the costs of software, consulting, and services needed to deploy and operate the robots.
  • Create a planning team: Set up a team of people who will be responsible for thinking through the logistics of implementation. The team will need to think about things like which labs the robots will need to travel to and how those labs are set up. They’ll also need to think about the paths where the robots will travel and will they need to open doors, activate elevators, or interact with their human lab partners.
  • Consider the constraints of the lab environment: You may need to change some things about the way your labs are set up. This might include rearranging equipment to limit potential obstacles or designating certain routes for robots only. Also make sure that your WiFi connection is strong enough to handle the extra load.
  • Plan for time to deploy the system: As with any robot, some teaching will be required. The first step is to map the laboratory. This is a simple operation that takes just a few minutes. This will be followed by teaching each of the pick and place nest locations. If you are using Green Button Go, you’re guided through the entire process. When teaching is complete, sample transport requests become as simple as issuing a single command called “Transport.”
  • Don’t forget maintenance needs: Like all equipment in the lab, mobile robots need regular maintenance and upkeep, as does any associated software. Lab staff should be aware of any scheduled maintenance work or software upgrades so they can avoid planning experiments at those times.

Want to learn more?

Mobile robots are still relatively new to the laboratory space, so we’ve put together a few links and suggestions for how to get more familiar with the possibilities.

Manufacturer sites
We recommend researching mobile robot manufacturers as an important starting point. Biosero offers custom mobile robots with a variety of autonomous mobile robot and autonomous guided vehicle providers like Omron, but as a hardware-agnostic software provider, we also work with mobile robot providers like Kevin Robot and Astech Projects to integrate their technology with Green Button Go.

More on mobile robots from Biosero
If you’d like to do more reading on mobile robots from the Biosero team, check out these links:

Virtual or live tours with mobile robots integrated into Green Button Go systems
We love mobile robots here at Biosero, and that’s why we made our team mobile robot, Yoda, the concierge to the Biosero Acceleration Lab. You can visit San Diego, CA to get a live Acceleration Lab Tour to see Yoda in action, or we can set up a virtual tour. Either way, you can see for yourself just how a mobile robot fits into the laboratory environment and just how you’d program it for action.

Get Biosero’s help launching a mobile robot in your lab
If you want help implementing a mobile robot or a fleet of them in your lab, consider contacting an automation partner, like Biosero. We provide software and integration solutions to help labs achieve their workflow goals in lab automation, and mobile robots are just one very important part of the transportation picture. Reach out.