The Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing Institute says that one of its members, Wilder Systems, has created a robotic cell for testing potential Covid-19 samples that is now in production in Austin, Texas.
The Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), through the CARES Act, provided funding to the ARM Institute to collaborate with Wilder Systems to develop this technology.
The ARM Institute is leading the way to a future where people and robots work together to respond to the nation’s greatest challenges and to develop and produce the world’s most desired products.
One of 16 Manufacturing USA Institutes across the United States, ARM is sponsored by the Department of Defense. The Institute operates as a national consortium of almost 300 member organizations who are experts in manufacturing, robotics, and workforce education.
The WS solution addresses one of the biggest challenges in Covid-19 testing: the lack of sufficient personnel to analyze samples and provide test results. Rapid testing for Covid-19 has become vital to mitigating its spread.
Throughout 2020, Americans were turned away from testing centers due to limited laboratory capacity to analyze the samples. People who were fortunate enough to be tested at all often had to wait a week or more to learn their results, effectively making them useless.
The equipment to complete quantitative identification of nucleic acids from infective organisms exists at most hospitals and universities, but there are not enough technicians to operate at full equipment capacity.
By automating this process with robotics, more people will have access to testing and the results of those tests can be made available sooner.
The project team led by ARM Institute member Wilder Systems built a robotic test cell that contains a 7-axis robotic arm, robotic liquid handlers for collection tube plating, polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing prep, the RT-qPCR analyzer itself, a hazardous waste bin, and control software.
A technician starts the testing process by supplying the sample in a test tube, the robotic system then processes it, and the results are quickly delivered. The entire system can be deployed at any lab and has demonstrated its ability to continuously run test samples with minimal human involvement.
A typical small lab can run about three cycles a day of 94 samples per an eight-hour shift, or 280 tests per day.
The Wilder system can run continuously for 24 hours with minimal technician supervision and run up to 2,000 samples per day with the same number of staff and PCR equipment resulting in a 7x increase.
Tests performed with the WS system in Austin guarantee results to patients within 24 hours, further augmenting the country’s supply of rapid test results.
Ira Moskowitz, ARM Institute CEO, says: “Robots are clearly being recognized as a highly valuable technology for Covid-19 remediation, be it in sanitation, personal protective equipment production, or testing.
“The robotic system developed by Wilder Systems, through ARM’s project funding program, is a critical component to helping the United States manage and mitigate the virus.”
Adds Cara Mazzarini, ARM’s technology portfolio manager responsible for directing the organization’s pandemic-related projects, “This project also accomplished another major milestone in that it was conceptualized, funded, developed, and delivered in less than five months.”
Will Wilder, CEO of Wilder Systems, says: “The team did a tremendous job in executing the mission to rapidly test for Covid-19 with robotics, and at such a breakneck pace.
“Working alongside ARM was pivotal, and we are thrilled to now be taking our innovations to market both here in Texas and across the country during this important juncture.”