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All-purpose robotics trials record ‘awesome’ results and success

Interview - August 25, 2016

Japan’s Robotic Biology Institute Inc. (RBI) has developed a robotic system that allows scientists to transfer their own skills and expertise to robots in an instant. Its easy-to-use GUI (graphical user interface) means researchers and scientists can put it to use easily without the need for coding or keyboard programming. CSO of RBI Dr Tohru Natsume explains how successful its implementation has been and its potential impact.



Can you tell us more about your Maholo product? What is it you feel sets this product apart in the sector?

Maholo is the world’s first humanoid robot for life science and bio-industry.

This humanoid is intended to perform almost all kinds of experiments which are thought to have been carried out ‘only’ by humans, using normal lab equipment, tools and devices without robot-specific modification or customization.

This robotic system allows scientists to transfer their own skills and expertise to robots in an instant. At present, we are the only company providing such kind of advanced technology and device. I don’t think there are any other robot makers interested in this field, and we have a good couple of years advance on the rest of the market. Yaskawa, the production company, has a very unique set of skills in terms of production (of high-performance humanoids); they have the best expertise and the best control in terms of designing and manufacturing processes.

The biggest challenge was how to teach and optimize robot jobs for life science bench work. Teaching Maholo which has two arms and a total of 15 axes, is very difficult even for robot experts. Needless to say, impossible for scientists in laboratories.

RBI has developed teaching software with an easy-to-use GUI (graphical user interface) in which researchers can describe experimental workflows intuitively on thier PCs. And each workflow is translated and compiled into robotics operations automatically, so scientists can use our robotic system without the need for coding or programming through keyboards.

Users can change protocols and workflows through the PC software. That’s why we call it all-purpose.           


You have previously mentioned about trying to create relationships with the pharmaceutical world. How do you communicate your capabilities, and what are the marketing strategies behind building further relationships with these companies?

When it comes to our communication and marketing strategy, one of the vital elements that we are currently working on is to build a robotic biology center for demonstrations, experiments and also research purposes.

In addition to that, we are working on a very unique validation study, called the six-site project with six robots in six different laboratories. First, a master site – which has a extremely difficult and widely demanded protocol that is only performed by exceptional skill – transfers the experimenter’s skills to Maholo, and then uploads this robot program after the site confirms the performance by the robot. And then the other sites download the confirmed program onto each of their robots to conduct the master site’s protocol, so we are able to see whether we can reproduce results by the master site. We are now writing a manuscript as to the project’s results for publication; those who conducted the project said, “Successful in implementing new protocol never attempted in my lab on the first try is just AWESOME.”

We are trying to publish more academic studies in order to prove, highlight and showcase these concepts and experiments. Additionally, we are planning to have exhibits around the world. Over the period of the next three years, we will open a branch in the US, probably in the Boston area and also in the UK, perhaps in Cambridge. This is how we plan to spread our technologies, but it may take some time.

What would you like to tell our readers as a final message about RBI?

In any experiment, data variation commonly occurs by many unintended human factors. Among them are experimenter’s skill, physical or mental fitness, concentration and sometime grit. Data consistency and the reproducibility of results always depend on the experimenter’s capability and proficiency. Even for the most capable person in your laboratory, human error has been inevitable in any manual handling process.

This annoying issue is surely a bottleneck, making life science costly and time-consuming.

Many scientists are busily occupied in long-time and complicated bench work and labor jobs.

Our ultimate goal is to free up all scientists from such bench work and they will have more time to be creative and productive, and perform higher value tasks.