Raspberry Pi-Powered Picamera Open Lab Imaging Robot Speeds Microbiology Research on the Cheap

Built for just $775, the Raspberry Pi-driven robot builds on open source projects including RepRap, Arduino, Repetier, and OctoPrint.

Gareth Halfacree
4 months agoRobotics
The robot, seen here performing microcapillary film imaging, can perform multiple imaging tasks. (📷: Needs et al)

A team of researchers have built a lab test imaging robot, powered by a Raspberry Pi and based on the RepRap reproducible 3D printer project, which is claimed to have saved "hundreds of hours of hands-on time" in tests for antimicrobial resistance.

"We built the robot with a simple purpose, to make antimicrobial resistance testing more robust without resorting to expensive and highly specialised lab equipment," says Dr. Alexander Edwards of the project. "Through the development of POLIR, we hit upon the idea that by hacking existing open source designs -in this case was a Raspberry Pi computer and a 3D printer - we could create something that avoids laborious manual experimental methods.

"The beauty of the POLIR kit is that it’s based on open source designs and we have likewise published our own designs and modifications, allowing everyone and anyone to benefit from the original design and the modifications in other contexts. We believe that open source hardware is a game changer that will revolutionise microbiological and other life science lab work by increasing data production whilst reducing hands-on labour time in the lab."

"Adapting simple, open source designs has meant that I can get higher quality data with less hands-on time in the lab," adds Dr. Sarah Needs, a research associate for microfluidic antimicrobial resistance testing. "We use this for taking images of our microfluidic experiments to follow bacterial growth. Using this design allows us to study over 400 microfluidic experiments at the same time, over multiple days if needed.

"One of the great things about the 3D printer that we used is that it is open source, which meant that very little needed to be changed. As a biologist I don’t usually make my own lab equipment but was able to print the 3D parts and put this together easily."

More information on the project is available on the Raspberry Pi blog, and in the paper published under open access terms in the journal PLOS One. The design files and software for the robot, meanwhile, can be found on the project's recently-updated GitLab repository.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire: freelance@halfacree.co.uk.
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