Million-pound research funding awarded for robotic chemist project

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The UK’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) is working with industrial and academic partners to develop the application of mobile robotic platforms in laboratory environments.

The majority of the £1,020,000 funding for this two-year project is provided by the Defence Innovation Unit, with support from Defence Equipment and Support, and the Department for Transport.

Dstl said it is driving forward the application of fully mobile, autonomous systems within its highly regulated high-hazard laboratory environments. Such systems could perform routine and repetitive tasks increasing the value of its human counterparts, who would be able to focus on more complex analytical activities.

Furthermore, the use of a robot to collect data aims to have positive implications on reproducibility and repeatability for some tasks and would increase capacity during periods of high demand.

Following a tendering process, Dstl has let a contract with the University of Liverpool and its start-up company Gearu Robotic Research. The purpose is to identify the optimal robotic solution to conduct two chemical processes, one related to the analysis of environmental samples and the other to the analysis of explosives, to define a follow on contract to complete the project.

David Groves, a fellow in the counter terrorism and security division and the instigator of the project said: “This is an exciting opportunity to be at the forefront of the application of such technology, which has the potential to significantly enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the delivery of our chemical analysis services for the benefit of all of our defence and security customers.”

Challenges for the robot in the workflow process and in the regulatory environment have already been identified but are being overcome collaboratively, according to the team. The first report on the scope of what is possible is currently being reviewed by Dstl staff and this will help shape when colleagues can expect to see the mobile robotic system working at Dstl Porton Down.

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