In the labo-robot-ory: Tech company developing automated biology tools - Brooklyn Paper

In the labo-robot-ory: Tech company developing automated biology tools

Say ‘Squeeze’: From left, Chiu Chau, Will Canine, Nick Wagner, and Andy Sigler — the team behind OpenTrons — look down at one of their robotoic lab assistants.

This startup wants to give scientists a hand — a robotic hand.

OpenTrons aims to revolutionize the way biologists work using an automated system to help perform the repetitive tasks lab work requires. One of the company’s founders said it is high time labs got high-tech.

“Lab automation today is basically where computing was in the 1970s,” said Will Canine, who lives in Bedford-Stuyvesant.

Lab automation systems that exist now, such as those that measure and combine small amounts of liquid, can run as expensive as $25,000, and require a technician to program them, Canine said. The team plans to sell its creation for just $3,000 when it hits the market next April, and, Canine explained, scientists can program it themselves through a drag-and-drop web interface.

“The ease of reprogramming is the tricky part,” Canine said. “We need to empower our researchers with knowledge of their machines.”

The precise, computer-controlled motors driving the robot are similar to those in 3-D printers. Canine said advancements by companies such as MakerBot have made these motors cheaper and easier to use.

“Aspects of our systems were made possible because of innovations that have happened largely in Brooklyn,” he said.

Advances in printer technology have lowered the barriers to entry to designers creating new products, and OpenTrons is trying to bring that accessibility to biology.

“We know if you speed up the design-test-build cycle you get better products,” Canine said. “We’re trying to bring that same thing to bio-prototyping.”

Canine says there is a market for the product because other lab-automation setups only sell to institutions, whereas OpenTrons is offering it to anyone who is interested.

“We’re targeting doctoral students and other people who are frankly too smart to be doing this kind of manual labor,” he said.

The primary OpenTrons setup consists of an eyedropper-like component on a moving arm that dispenses small amounts of precisely measured liquid into a series of tiny test tubes. Scientists often perform this task by hand in order to prototype potential new compounds and to create base solutions for research.

OpenTrons is currently open-source, as MakerBot was when it first started hawking printers. But the founders say their business model requires that they stay open-source, because scientists need to be able to adapt their robotic assistants to meet their needs.

“Being open-source is a central tenet of our business model,” Canine said. “We need other companies to take our product and build on top of it.”

The team, which also includes Nick Wagner, Chiu Chau, and Andy Sigler, started working on the devices at Genspace, a Downtown biotechnology lab that offers workspace and classes to foster biological innovation.

OpenTrons is now rasing money on Kickstarter, and hopes to open an office Downtown soon.

Techno Files

Sugarlift, an online art gallery operated out of Bushwick, launched last week. The founders, Wright Harvey and Bart Piela, both alumni of JP Morgan Chase, have curated a collection of original artwork to sell to collectors through the site, and at their brick-and-mortar gallery on Morgan Avenue. The works come framed and ready to hang.

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Kickstarter is ramping up its collaboration with the Museum of Modern Art, adding more products to the shelves of the museum’s fancy high-end design store in Manhattan. One of the products selected for the holiday shopping season was Brooklyn designer David Barry’s Cloud File Solutions, a metal file organizer shaped like clouds.

Reach reporter Matthew Perlman at (718) 260–8310. E-mail him at mperl‌man@c‌ngloc‌al.com. Follow him on Twitter @matthewjperlman.
Ready to drop: OpenTrons co-founder Will Canine wants his company to change the field of scientific research in the way that three-dimensional printing has shaken up design.

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