The 21st century saw the rise of the smart home. The Internet of Things was populated by WiFi-enabled appliances, from smart ovens that knew how long and at what temperature to cook popular dishes, to various digital assistants that can fill our homes with music and place an order for more paper towels and find the answers to trivia questions.
We’re all familiar with the smart home. But have you heard of a smart laboratory?
Technology in the Lab
Just like a smart home, a smart laboratory relies on an interconnected network of devices and apps to provide greater efficiency.
However, while a smart home might have a doorbell cam, a smart lab instead has highly specialized equipment that can connect to calibration software and share the results of the calibration with the lab manager’s dashboard, for instance.
Equipment calibration is just one part of having a smart lab. Inventory management is a big part of it as well. When a laboratory inventory management system is in play, all reagents and lab samples are labeled with a barcode.
When an item is removed from the inventory, it is scanned and the software automatically updates the system. This allows the lab manager to keep track of reagent levels and order restocks as needed.
Most smart labs also use an electronic lab notebook, or ELN system. This allows researchers to record the results of their experiments and other important data, and have it stored in the system.
An ELN makes it easy for researchers to share their data with others in the lab, or even in other labs anywhere in the world. With more and more labs working collaboratively, ease of data sharing is becoming an important factor in having a smart lab.
In some fields, lab automation has become a major component of having a smart laboratory. Automation largely involves having sophisticated robots perform tasks which previously would have been handled by humans.
This automation increases efficiency and data quality, as well as other benefits. Not all labs perform work that can be automated, but in some fields, such as combinational chemistry and in labs where a large number of tests need to be performed, automation has become key.
Benefits of a Smart Laboratory
Some smart home gadgets end up feeling more like a gimmick than something that actually improves your life — do you really need a WiFi-enabled device to check in on your dog and throw treats at them while you’re at the office?
But the benefits of a smart lab are clear. The increased connectivity and automation allows labs to work more efficiently, leading to higher-quality data and more innovation within their field.
In a smart laboratory, the lab manager has an unprecedented viewpoint into everything that is happening in the lab.
From ensuring that equipment is properly calibrated and that the freezer is fully stocked with all reagents, to having the latest data on every experiment, to knowing who is working on what and at what stage their project is, they can keep an eye on everything and keep the lab humming right along.