The new laboratory assistant at the University of Liverpool works 1.000 times faster than any chemist who precedes him. And it is also a robot.
A robot researcher? Yes, but without ambitions to replace humans. Its creators explain in their paper that the robot will help with repetitive tasks, and allow scientists to perform more important tasks.
Humanoid as it were
The robot, currently nameless, has no human-style arms, legs and face, because it simply doesn't need it. To work on the laboratory bench and with equipment designed to be used by standing humans, the robot uses lasers and touch sensors.
It is (rightly) calibrated to address specific activities, the most time-consuming for scientists.
The "researcher" robot: you don't need to think like us
Often new technologies and research, especially in robotics, they may focus on anthropomorphic qualities or on "thinking like a human being", but this is not the case.
The human brain is already extremely capable of synthesizing high-level information and thoughts in associative and abstract ways that generate new ideas.
What is needed in this case is (for example) the rapid selection of 5.000.000 chemical samples, dividing them between those that have a certain desired quality and those that do not.
And this is where the Liverpool robot excels
By design, the research robot combines repetitive tasks of many different types with powerful electronic reasoning. This is a huge change from existing and reliable automated lab tools that usually only perform one task.
Given its special combination of features, this robot was uniquely prepared to address a very limited problem. Look for improved photocatalysts for producing hydrogen from water.
With an overall limit of 10 possible variables, the robot operated alone for eight days and completed nearly 700 experiments.
At the end of eight days, the robot had a photocatalyst six times better than what human researchers had put together.
Not bad for a simple assistant, is it?