Robot Scientist Solves the Biggest Chemistry Challenge in Just Over a Week

Robot scientist works 1000 times faster than human scientists.
Fabienne Lang

There's no denying that robots are becoming more and more sophisticated. There's a whole raft of ways to use robots, some of which are truly mind-blowing.

Now a team of scientists at the University of Liverpool in the U.K. has created a robot chemist that's capable of working 1000 times faster than its human counterparts. 

Speeding up scientific research and processes have been tasks researchers have been working on for years, this new robot may help do just that. 

The study was published in the journal Nature on Wednesday.


A robot to help, not take jobs

Some worry that by developing robots in such a way, many people around the world will lose their jobs. That may be so, however it'll also potentially free up the time and possibilities of people to take on more diverse, challenging, and exciting roles that were previously sitting on the sidelines while humans plodded through the monotonous, but required, day to day tasks. 

Robot Scientist Solves the Biggest Chemistry Challenge in Just Over a Week
The University of Liverpool's robot scientist in action, Source: University of Liverpool

The latter could now be taken over by robots, as they wouldn't tire from carrying out the same tasks over and over again without a break. 

The University of Liverpool robot is simply that — a robot. No face is needed as it uses laser scans and touch feedback for its navigation. Its precise and incredibly sensitive single arm can operate more smoothly and without any potential mishaps that humans could carry out. 

Moreover, the robot was specifically designed to fit human-like proportions, so that no pre-existing infrastructure in the lab needed to be changed. The beauty of it all? The robot can operate for 20 hours straight without tiring, something no human can do. 

Lead researcher of the study, Andrew Cooper, told Inverse "There are quite a few instruments in chemistry that people refer to as 'robots.' These are not new things."

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"But almost all automated systems up until now are built to do a particular thing; they're basically hardwired. This is a different idea [because] we've automated the researcher, [meaning] we built a robot that uses instruments like a human."

Robot Scientist Solves the Biggest Chemistry Challenge in Just Over a Week
The robot directly fits in with human-like dimensions, Source: University of Liverpool

In the lab, the robot helped human scientists discover a new photocatalyst. What would usually take human researchers months to discover, the robot discovered in just over a week. It managed to do so even as it went through 98 million different possible experiments. 

Ultimately, the robot scientist discovered a new catalyst six times more reactive than those previously discovered. 

Cooper explained that these robots are not meant to take over humans' jobs, rather they're to offer assistance and act as collaborative partners to scientists.

The next steps will include adding voice recognition tech to the robots, so as to facilitate comunication between the human scientists and the robotic ones. Cooper expects these additions to be done within the upcoming 18 months.

With more and more robots going on sale, it'll be interesting to see what the world looks like in the future.

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