German engineers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Factory Operation and Automation IFF in Magdeburg are ready to test their newly developed robotic lab assistant, a robot called LISA that was designed to help researchers with routine laboratory tasks in a safe and efficient manner:
LISA is equipped with a sensing gripper arm designed to hold plastic dishes but not injure human beings. Its “artificial skin” consists of conductive foam and textiles and intelligent signal processing electronics. This skin immediately senses and cushions inadvertent jostling. A thermographic camera additionally registers body heat and indicates for instance if a human colleague’s hand is in the way. The developers at the IFF and their seven project partners from industry and research aim to construct a robot suited for everyday routines that can already be cost effectively deployed shortly after the pilot phase — and around the clock at that. Hence, LISA was not overloaded with functionalities. It has a laser-aided navigation system with which it orients itself in familiar spaces and goes through doorways on its own. It safely navigates around obstacles and people. That suffices for everyday laboratory work anytime.
LISA uses language to communicate and, thanks to its large vocabulary, understands entire sentences like “Get me dish A4 from incubator 8.” If something is unclear, it asks. Additionally, simple work commands can be entered through a touchscreen. LISA was conceived to be able to learn new actions easily. This is particularly important for life science laboratories in which new types of measuring stations are frequently installed or varied work steps are executed. “LISA was tailored precisely to its niche for use,” says project coordinator Dr. Norbert Elkmann from the IFF. “This is the only way its everyday use will soon be possible — we could be that far in about one to two years.”
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