Liquid-Handling Lego Robot Automates Lab Experiments

A liquid-handling Lego robot from Stanford University helps students and teachers create inexpensive automated systems to do biology experiments. Modern biology labs often use robotic assemblies to drop precise amounts of fluids into experimental containers.

A liquid-handling Lego robot built at Stanford University hopes to foster interest in wet sciences - biology, chemistry and medicine - for students.

Using a Lego Mindstorms EV3 robotics kit and a plastic syringe, students and DIYers can use the liquid-handling robot to automate lab assignments. The DIY robot measures and transfer liquids between flasks, test tubes and experimental dishes.

Some of the basic experiments include:

  • Mixing colored liquids
  • Comparing pH levels of liquids
  • Measuring color intensities of liquids
  • Showing how liquids of different salt densities can be layered.

There are automated pipetting systems already on the market, but they’re quite expensive. Ingmar Riedel-Kruse, an assistant professor of bioengineering who led the Stanford team, says this liquid-handling Lego robot might even be useful for professional tasks.

“We really want kids to learn by doing,” Riedel-Kruse says. “We show that with a few relatively inexpensive parts, a little training and some imagination, students can create their own liquid-handling robots and then run experiments on it – so they learn about engineering, coding and the wet sciences at the same time.”

Liquid-handling Lego Robot
Fig 1. Liquid-handling Lego robots enable hands-on learning of modern biotechnology concepts.
(A) The 1-D robot constructed from the educational EV3 kit can handle up to 20 standard cuvettes (B). A standard 1-ml syringe (C) is easily modified for Lego compatibility (D). The motorized crankshaft pipette head (E) is inspired by professional laboratory pipettes (inset). (F) An advanced 2-D robot can handle up to four 96-well plates, in which a linear rail system (G) enables precise droplet delivery (H). (I) Drop volumes for 1-ml and 25-μl syringes using the linear rail system (G) are calibrated from images against drops obtained with standard pipettes (Inset E); scale bars: 5 mm.

Building the Liquid-Handling Lego Robot

The Stanford team offers building instructions and experiments for students in the journal PLoS Biology. Riedel-Kruse says coding the liquid-handling Lego robot is elementary. A simple programming language allows students to place symbols telling the robot what to do.

The robots can be programmed and operated in different ways. In some experiments, students push buttons to actuate individual motors. In other experiments, students pre-program all motor actions to watch their experiments executed automatically.

“It’s kind of easy. Just define a few parameters and the system works,” Riedel-Kruse says. “These robots can support a range of educational experiments and they provide a bridge between mechanical engineering, programming, life sciences and chemistry. They would be great as part of in-school and afterschool STEM programs.”

Top 50 Robotics Companies of 2017

Sister publication Robotics Business Review has unveiled its highly anticipated sixth annual RBR50 list of the most noteworthy public and private companies in the global robotics industry for 2017.

Lego is one of the consumer robotics companies on the RBR50 list, as well as DJI, iRobot, Softbank and more.

Top Robotics Companies 2017

The RBR50 list outlines companies you should keep on your business radar. RBR50 honorees are the visionaries, disruptors, and trend setters shaping the robotics industry.

This international compilation spans 10 countries and includes companies ranging from emerging startups to the biggest robotics makers.

About the Author

Steve Crowe · Steve Crowe is managing editor of Robotics Trends. Steve has been writing about technology since 2008. He lives in Belchertown, MA with his wife and daughter.
Contact Steve Crowe:  ·  View More by Steve Crowe.


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