Contrary to common perception, robots are
generally not faster than people on any given
task. However, they are relentless. They do not
stop to answer the phone, take a bio-break,
or reflect upon what they are doing over the
As such, even though they are not
fundamentally faster than a human, their unit
output per time period is often higher due to
the elimination of inactive time. This is the first
source of increased productivity from robotics.
In addition to being relentless, robotic systems
also are capable of parallel processing far in
excess of anything a human scientist could
coordinate. Imagine needing to keep track
of exactly how long a plate has been in an
incubator, while also tracking plates in a liquid
handler, a centrifuge, and a thermocycler.
Even the best human multi-taskers have very
low limits of mental juggling capacity compared
to automation. Proper high-end automation
scheduling software can track a nearly limitless
set of activities happening in concert. This
enables a single system to be simultaneously
managing multiple sequential steps in any given
scientific workflow concurrently, which further
increases overall experimental productivity.
As Novartis notes in their use of automation,
running samples by hand has a potential
output of around 30-40 per day, where robotic
systems can approach output in the hundreds of
thousands per day.
Robotic systems also significantly increase
process accuracy and quality of data capture.
When you instruct a robot to heat a plate for
exactly 128 seconds, it never accidentally heats
it for 145 seconds because it was talking to a
Thus, as you generate experimental data,
a robotic system can be relied upon to have
generated it with precision, and to have recorded
its process parameters in ways that could be hard
for a human, particularly in volume.
AstraZeneca is another good example of a
company pioneering ways to generate higher
experimental output and accuracy through
laboratory automation. Using flexible, modular,
and collaborative robotics, the systems developed
at their Cambridge, U.K. facility can test up to
300,000 compounds per day. It is difficult to
imagine how many humans would be required to
achieve this level of output, but suffice it to say
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