July 9, 2012

Robot Takes Human Element Out Of Lab Work

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

A new robot developed by automation giant Yaskawa and Japan's National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST) takes the human element out of the equation when working in a lab.

Mahoro is able to automate lab work and perform tasks such as culturing more quickly and accurately than human lab techs, as well as handle biohazards.

Tohru Natsume, the team leader for the Biological Information Research Center at Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, said in a video posted by DigInfo News that they have put the robot through a lot of tests with radioactive materials.

“For example, to develop influenza drugs, we do infection trials every day, using virulent strains of influenza," the developers wrote in a press release. "This work is very hazardous, so it should be done by robots. We also have to do lots of tests with radioactive materials. Those should also be done by robots.”

The two-armed robot has seven joints in its arms, allowing it to use human tools and perform tasks that normally need to be done manually.

"In factories, a hand can usually be positioned freely using six joints," Mahoro's creators said. "But with a seventh axis, elbow motion can be reproduced. That enables the robot to move like this."

Mahoro is also able to learn tasks through its virtual lab bench created with CAD software. This allows programmers to set up the tools in the most efficient arrangement for a maximum speed. Typically, a lot of programming has to be done in order to make a robot function, but the researchers have developed a better way of doing things.

The developers said they use a 3D scanner to capture 3D CAD data for all the tools a laboratory might want the robot to use. They then input that information into a computer, and create a virtual bench and a virtual robot.

"For example, if we want to take a tube to this hand position, all we need to do is click in that direction, and the robot´s hand will go there," they wrote in the release. "We also do collision simulations. Of course, we can freely change how various tools are arranged."

They said the computer enables them to simulate the best places to put the tools, and create movements.

"So, we wanted to develop a robot that can do what people do, using the same tools people use. That´s why we´ve developed Mahoro.”