Researchers from the University of Liverpool have built what they call an intelligent mobile robot scientist that’s able to work continuously nearly 24 hours a day and carry out experiments on its own. The robotic scientists is said to be the first of its kind and can make its own decisions about what chemistry experiments to perform next. The robot has already discovered a new catalyst.
The researchers designed the robot to human dimensions, and it’s able to work in a standard laboratory using instruments similar to how a human scientist would. The robot is much heavier than the average human scientist at 400 kg and has infinite patience. The robot is also able to think in 10 dimensions and can work for 21.5 hours a day, only needing the stop for a recharge.
Researchers say that robots have been used in chemistry research before but are typically hardwired to perform a specific experiment. The robot the team built can roam around the laboratory and perform a wide range of tasks. It can handle equipment designed for human operation because it features human-like dimensions and physical reach.
The bot uses a combination of laser scanning combined with touch feedback for positioning rather than a vision system. In testing, the robot conducted 680 experiments over eight days working for 172/192 hours. The robot was able to independently carry out all tasks in the experiment, such as weighing out solids, dispensing liquids, removing air from the vessel, running the catalytic reaction, and quantifying the reaction products.
The brain of the robot has a search algorithm that can navigate a 10-dimensional space of more than 98 million candidate experiments deciding the best one to do based on outcomes of the previous ones. The bot has already autonomously discovered a catalyst that is six times more active with no additional guidance from the research team. The researchers say that the robot makes far fewer mistakes than any human operator.