Open Source Lab Bot

August, 13, 2014 - There are many challenges facing the DIY biologist. Among them is a shortage of helping hands, time, and a clean area to work in. There are a lot of innovative solutions being used to circumvent these obstacles. Automation short circuits a lack of hands and time, while homemade HEPA filters, plastic, and duct tape can produce a relatively clean work area.

Automation is difficult though, and most DIYbio automation is done within the context of start-up businesses. If you are lucky and have a strong DIYbio community gathering regularly at a community lab, implementing more elaborate environmental controls and automation can be doable.

In the future, though, there might be another option -- the 3D printer of the DIYbio movement -- the lab bot.

Modular Science on its website here, claims: "We are building hardware and software for lab automation. We focus on modular, hackable, well-documented systems so that you modify the hardware and software for your own experiments."

This sounds exactly like what DIYbio needs -- a flexible, well-documented, hackable platform that can be adjusted to suit an infinite number of needs for a multitude of experiments orthodox and otherwise that DIY biologists would be taking on. The platform is automated, enclosed (and therefore easier to keep clean), and includes liquid and vial handling, as well as a centrifuge. The term "modular" means that in the future you may see a PCR unit inside the enclosed environment, as well as an electrophoresis bed and other tools used for molecular biology.

A machine that is programmed to carry out routine lab tasks repetitively and precisely would free up time for other activities, such as designing the next experiment or analyzing the results of a previous effort. At the end of the day, a corner in your hackerspace with a lab bot like the one being developed by Modular Science could enable a wider demographic to take on DIYbio. The more people busy pushing the frontiers forward, the faster they will move forward.

Modular Science, if they keep their platform open, will still undoubtedly receive plenty of income building the system for those who cannot or prefer not to make it themselves. With the designs out in the open to be modified and improved upon by the community, Modular Science will have a steady inflow of new ideas to build into future iterations.

As DIYbio continues to expand and merge with existing makerspaces and hackerspaces already adept at developing and modifying 3D printing platforms, it will be interesting to see the family of lab bots that results after systems like Modular Science's sets the bar for others to pass over.

Find Modular Science's website here. Another open source DIYbio platform, OpenTrons is here.
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