Kappeler: Manual pipetting is used for small sample volumes and/or occasional procedures or a process that has to be modified. It takes concentration, and if you make a mistake, you may not notice it until much later with potentially enormous consequences. In research, this might mean that results ultimately do not match and the work you did for several weeks was all for nothing, or that precious, unique samples are now lost.
Our idea is to keep the benefits of manual pipetting, i.e., the efficiency and flexibility when pipetting small volumes, but still have the quality control and documentation of a typical automated pipetting system. These systems are usually programmed for high-throughput screening and large-volume samples that are always pipetted in the same way. However, automation does not efficiently support smaller batches.
Have you identified specific tasks where an AR system is especially beneficial?
Kappeler: We believe augmented reality is an exciting aspect in general. For example, it enables you to give users job instructions by superimposing the procedures for particular assays.
The entire process could be stored electronically as a protocol. The sequence of identified steps would then be automatically compared with the stored lab protocol. This allows the system to detect in real-time whether or not all steps have been performed accurately. This might even involve the system’s refusal to dispense from the pipette if it detects that the lab technician is about to make a mistake.
What do you think is next for "Laboratory 4.0"?
Kappeler: Digitization, networked instruments, and smart products are trends that permeate our world. The laboratory and its functions are still somewhat on the conservative end of this spectrum. Having said that, the aforementioned trends will eventually also make their way into the laboratory realm. Smart devices will increasingly support the various functions of laboratories, making life in the lab easier and results more accurate and reliable.