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The Hybrid Workplace

Uniting manual workplaces, automation, logistics, and information technology for the laboratory of the future; The Hybrid Lab
: Knoch, Sandra; Schöning, Sebastian

Association for Laboratory Automation:
LabAutomation 2010. Final Program & Abstracts : Where Science, Technology and Industry Come Together. Palm Springs, California, USA, January 23-27, 2010
St. Charles/Ill., 2010
International Conference on Laboratory Automation (LabAutomation) <2010, Palm Springs/Calif.>
Conference Paper
Fraunhofer IPA ()
Mensch-Maschine-Schnittstelle; Schnittstellengestaltung; Arbeitsplatz; Arbeitsplatzgestaltung; Laboratorium

Laboratories are the central workplace in research and industry for biological, chemical, or pharmaceutical experiments. Nowadays, labs are equipped with automated and semi-automated devices, even though human technicians remain indispensible for their flexibility. The realization of laboratories that are both efficient and flexible is a demanding task. We claim that interfaces constitute the bottleneck here: computer interfaces between technicians and the information infrastructure, communication interfaces between devices and the information infrastructure, and the transport of substances as an interface between automation, technicians, and storage facilities. In our approach, we tackle the challenge from all three angles. For the human-computer interface, we're utilizing cutting-edge touch-screen technology that is molded into the manual work place, the lab desk. Thereby, the computer interface becomes the manual workplace. This part of our project is still ongoing research. Laboratory devices come in many flavors and, unfortunately, most of them come along with proprietary electronic interfaces. As a result, device integration is a major challenge in laboratory environments. To cope with this challenge, we followed a twofold approach. First, we devised a communication protocol based on the well-known XML standard that allows us to interact in a generic way with arbitrary devices and the information infrastructure. Second, we are developing a software called "driver generator" that allows technicians to easily integrate devices without the burden of programming devices directly. Both the protocol specification and the driver generator are currently applied in real-world scenarios for the automated fabrication of human tissue. The third approach addresses the issue of transportation of materials and samples in laboratories. We developed a small, flexible, and robust carrier robot that interacts with automated devices, manual workplaces, and storage facilities. The semi-autonomous carrier robots move on top of desks or shelves along guidelines and landmarks, whereby both can easily be set up or removed. Furthermore, the carrier is capable of communicating with the information infrastructure. Currently, we're testing our demonstrator robot in real lab environments. To prove the versatility of our approach, we are developing a realistic lab environment. We aim to provide a show-room laboratory which makes the discussed technologies ready for experimentation in a real-world setup combining manual workplaces, automation, storage, and the information infrastructure.