Spinout from ITU automates strenuous lab work
Robot professor Kasper Støy has founded Flow Robotics, which lets a robot take over repetitive pipetting tasks that lead to hand and arm injuries among lab workers.
Fill a pipette with liquid, move your hand a little to the right, disperse three milliliters into a new test tube. Repeat this movement a few hundred times a day and you may well end up with aching hands and a prolonged sick leave. Around 37 percent of Danish lab workers suffer from hand pain one or more times a week.
The new ITU spinout Flow Robotics has developed the flowbot ONE robot to solve exactly that problem. CEO and Professor in Robotics Kasper Støy conceived the idea during a research project that included many hours spent in laboratories.
"We discovered that lab workers still spend a lot of time pipetting by hand. The existing pipette robots on the market are difficult to program for smaller and changing tasks. So laboratory workers often end up in a situation where they can choose between spending 45 minutes programming the robot or spending 45 minutes just pipetting by hand. We wanted to come up with a smarter solution," says Kasper Støy.
Having co-founded the successful robotics company Universal Robots, he is an experienced entrepreneur within robot technology.
Focus on user-friendliness
Unlike larger laboratory robots, the flowbot ONE is so user-friendly that it can be operated by people without any programming expertise.
"Our focus is to reduce the time spent from the moment you approach the machine to the moment the experiment is running. It's all about bringing the technology down to eye-level for the people who have tasks to solve," says Kasper Støy.
»"Among other things, we are using a combination of Augmented Reality and computer vision to make it easy and intuitive for the user to tell the robot what to do," he continues.
[W]e are using a combination of Augmented Reality and computer vision to make it easy and intuitive for the user to tell the robot what to do.«
Lab workers from different companies have tested the robot and learned to use the system in an hour. Subsequently, it took them just a few minutes to prepare the robot for a new task. This frees up time for lab workers to spend more time on more development-oriented tasks while avoiding work injuries at the same time.
"It would be really nice if we could improve the conditions for lab workers. Ultimately, as a researcher, you want to make the world a better place,” he says.
A huge market
This week, Flow Robotics is presenting their robot to the public at LabDays in Øksnehallen. According to Kasper Støy, Denmark is an ideal home ground for a company specializing in lab automation.
"In Denmark we have a huge biotech and pharmaceutical industry in Medicon Valley, but most lab equipment companies are based in Switzerland or the US. It would be nice if we could support this industry with automation solutions," he says.
Globally, the market for liquid handling equipment is around $ 3.4 billion, according to BCC Research. Flow Robotics will initially focus primarily on the Danish, German and English markets, but eventually hopes to change workflows in labs around the world.
If you ask Kasper Støy, the potential is there.
"When Apple and Microsoft started making computers that ordinary people could operate, they gained access to a much larger market than when they only sold supercomputers to specific customers. A similar change is now happening in the robot industry, and we are a part of this development," says Kasper Støy.
Kasper Støy, Professor, phone 7218 5368, email email@example.com
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