When I first started my career I was so excited to be working in a laboratory. I was young and there were a lot of people like me with the same goal. Getting paid to do science. All of the assays were manual from sample aliquotting to sample submission. What was automated though was sample analysis. Put your samples in a tray, insert it into the autosampler, press RUN and “poof,” the next morning my data was there and the results looked great. Well, great most of the time.
Then something started to happen. These big black boxes started showing up amid whispers of “What is that?” and “I guess I’m going to be replaced.” They were the first liquid handlers I ever saw and they were hard to program and hard to validate. So I was safe for a while as those monstrosities gathered dust. However, after pipetting for the umpteenth time, I dusted off the liquid handler and started with the first step of the procedure. And after a while it could do the first step and then the second step. Slowly but surely that robot did all the steps and I had a validated assay done by a robot.
Was I ever afraid a laboratory robot was going to take my job? In the beginning, yes. Did I ever see a laboratory robot take anyone’s job? No. So don’t be afraid of automation. Embrace it because it could be doing your dirty work for you. If your robot produces favorable results, then you can take all the credit.
A few years have gone by and I have worked with many automated systems. But now I have the opportunity to work on a team to develop a sample automation robot for HemaSpot-HF thanks to additional funding from DARPA.
It takes me about a minute to excise a sample from the device. The robot plans to do it in 10 seconds. So we will start with the first step and then the second step. And at the end we will have a validated robot that can take a sample from HemaSpot-HF and place it in a tube. When it is ready, sometime in early 2017, I plan to have a head to head competition to see who’s faster. I’m not letting this robot take my job and I’m sure it won’t take your job either.
So don’t be afraid of automation, embrace it. There’s no bigger satisfaction, for me at least, then watching a machine do my work for me, better and faster.