It’s more than a century that engines have replaced horses for doing work and pulling trolleys, and then automation hit our society. Still, nobody has yet feared the risk of human mankind being replaced. That fear arrived under the name of Robotics: an unidentified, imaginative mixture of mechanics, biology and electronic hybrids, including improbable positronic brains (well, Isaac Asimov himself would have had a hard time in explaining rationally why positrons – the anti-particle of the electron – could make a brain work better).
Often, it’s the look and feel of the outer shell of the novel entity that triggers our fear: so, the kind of robots that excites public emotions has legs, eyes and “seems” human. Ultimately, it’s hard to deny that the distinction between automation and robotics is given by our sensorial perception, and the cultural taboos that are deep in our roots.
However, competition is sometimes beneficial and leading to progress: as mankind learnt mastering fire, cattle, weapons, catastrophic events, it will learn mastering the early robots primarily conceived to assist and help in daily activities. A new word has recently been coined: Companion Robotics. It characterizes the robots designed to work together with humans. Companion robots use tools originally designed for humans, and work in the same environments built for humans. Companion robots are designed to help humans and perform precise tasks under their guidance, and it’s difficult to find any potential disadvantage…except for the instinctive fear of losing the job, sometimes. Admittedly, a robot playing chess as a master is designed for direct competition: but it’s difficult to deny that a surgical robot assisting a shaking hand should be well accepted by both the surgeon and the patient.
Andrew Alliance is a new company based in Switzerland that has developed and commercialized Andrew, the liquid handling robot: an off-the-shelf solution that can be bought for about 24’000$. The Andrew robot accomplishes what technicians and biologists perform, with pain, for two hours per day (on average): transfer of liquids from one place to the other, quantitatively and precisely. It’s hard to acknowledge that scientists with long and difficult Ph.D. studies perform manual work two hours per day in the 21st century, but it is the case. This type of work has little added value, is error-prone, and is painful: the scientist thumb lifts and drops 4kg (8 pounds) five-hundred time per day, for an aggregate weight of two metric tons. Andrew can do the same operation unattended, following the biology protocol instructions given by the same biologist, without requiring any specific competence in robotics, automation or information technology.
As a perfect companion robot, Andrew works in the same conventional laboratory: it sits on the same bench used by the scientist when performing the operation manually, uses the same tools (called pipettes) exploited by biologists in their daily experimental work, and will do it right and precisely, exploiting artificial vision and intelligence to avoid trivial mistakes that have expensive consequences.
Andrew is a companion robot, and it is available today: already exploited by many early adopters worldwide, biologists and technicians have now the opportunity of becoming more efficient with the contribution of Andrews that assist – more than replace – humans. Scientists get more time for intellectual activities, reduce the risk of musculoskeletal issues in boring, value-less and repetitive operations, and ultimately get better data from their experiments since they can be repeated reliably.
Andrew, the companion robot, is a reality that has finally reached researchers in Life Sciences.
Visit http://www.andrewalliance.com for more information.
Name: Piero Zucchelli
Organization: Andrew Alliance
Address: 17 rue des pierres du Niton - Geneve 1207 (Switzerland)