Robot Debate

What are the pros and cons of each robot? It seems that there’s no definitive answer on which platform is the best for each application. Maybe we can figure it out here!

Open-source Python interface
Multi-channel with no variable-span and uniform volumes
96-head with uniform volumes
No liquid classes built in (but variable speeds do exist)
Small footprint
Price: ~$10k

Applications: Sample prep for sequencing, PCR, qPCR. Modular cloning assembly.

Microlab STAR
Proprietary GUI with C++ derivative scripting language
Multi-channel with variable span and variable volumes
96-head with uniform volumes
Medium footprint
Price: ~$200k

Applications: High-throughput drug screening, stem cell culture maintenance, directed evolution

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Q: any reason we haven’t tried stem cell culture maintenance / directed evolution on the OT-2?

We have a meca500 arm & 2 used cytomats - a Microlab STAR >triples the cost of our workcell. I do wonder if it saves us >$100k in engineer-time to use a STAR instead of the OT2.

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However a Star still requires a ton of maintenance and that’s why Hamilton “houses” usually have large support teams. They recently modified their 8 channels so maybe that means less maintenance overall but that remains to be seen, it’s something they’re changing this year in the field.


That would be really interesting to try, I cant think of any reason why it wouldnt be possible. Of course you’d need a separate robotic gripper to replace the iSWAP for moving plates to and from the incubator, and you’d need tilt modules and heating/ cooling modules on deck. These are not so complicated to program and theres probably DIY solutions as well for these equipment.

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@luisvillaautomata what kind of in house maintenance can be done on the hamilton? We usually have to wait for our service tech to come out if channel isnt working (one of the most frequent repairs for us)

Luckily Opentron is on at least some of it:

Almost anything your service engineer can perform from changing stop disks & o-rings to redoing alignments of the gantry if something bad happens.

However changing the stop disks & o-rings is something you’re asked to do every 20,000 moves or so, which IMO is a problem without a dedicated service team and large fleets.


Sounds like I’ll have to try it…!

We haven’t built our own tilt module yet, sounds like a fun project. Can I interact with my Hamilton tilt module directly via PyLabRobot?

Like directly communicating from your PC to the tilt module without a Hamilton robot? I think so! I’ll take a look at the integration library I have for the tilt module.

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Having worked at both companies I might as well chime in :wink:

I think it’s really apples and oranges here for people who prioritize different things. If you have the budget, don’t have the time, and need higher throughput, a Star is probably your best bet.

If you don’t have the budget, are fairly new to automation, have more time to tinker, and are low to medium throughput, the OT-2 is probably your best bet.

That being said, they aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. I’ve seen OT-2’s compliment Stars in the same lab. Sometimes large workflows have bottlenecks that can be handled off line. For example, ELISA workflows that require multiple different modules and integrations (readers, incubations, washers…) can get bottle neck diluting samples. Let something smaller like an OT-2 handle that, then hand the diluted sample plate to the Star that can handle the movements/timings/that kind of stuff better.

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That’s really interesting, this is partly why I was wondering about process modeling in another thread Process Analytics (Bottlenecks, Sample Flow) - #8 by SmoothG.

I guess it’s tough to estimate because startups and labs are going to pivot to different workflows but for a $5M+ automated lab we should have some quantitative models of production rate backing up our decisions.

On a side note someone told me they bought X brand of robot because they were most familiar with the interface. To me this seems like buying a specific car because you are familiar with the steering wheel! Very much understandable but indicates a larger problem. We need better data for comparing these essentially similar machines. Is it possible to have some universal metrics for comparing flow-through rate of a given process across different robots? I think so!


Okay hearing lots of debate going on but as a side I found this gem and had to share…


lol, been a while since i have seen this!

omg I can’t stop laughing. Really catchy though but this has made my day!

Seeing that video made signing up for this forum well worth it, thank you.

I agree, which platform is best really depends with the starting question of “what are you trying to do?” - both near-term and longer-term. It usually comes down to the details of the application and budgets.

That being said, here are a few of my observations having worked with many of the robots:

Pros: Low cost, large library of example code posted on website, Python programming code - this is great for those accustomed to traditional computer-science style programming and those savvy and experienced at programming this type of gear. Which also leads to the con…
Cons: Having to change pipetters to hit different volume ranges - this can potentially be a problem for labs that would re-validate after swapping, and potentially limit applications. Python programming code - many biologists are not familiar with text-based programming and are seeking more of a drag and drop programming interface. Error handling/recovery options during run-time are limited.

Pros: Workhorse instrument, large install base, quality hardware.
Cons: One of the more complex softwares to master. Not super intuitive to teach yourself . Forget quotes around your text in fields where you it should be assumed = problem. Need HSL code to add multiple things together / perform more complex math. Generally locked into tips from Hamilton, and long-term, for heavy users, tips exceed the cost of the instruments themselves. Takes a lot of lines of script to perform tasks relative to other platforms. Single-gantry for the arms means one-arm at a time vs. parallel arm movements. Tip boxes are stationary/static - can limit worktable layout, depending on tip needs, may limit amount of worktable available for SBS plates / other labware.

Tecan (Fluent):
Pros: Workhorse instrument, quality hardware. TouchTools user interfaces are easy to create, dual screens between touchscreen on front of instrument and programming instrument. Independent arms - allows for parallel arm movements - gripper can move plates to/from hotels while instrument is pipetting. Tip boxes and microplates potentially interchangeable positions on worktable, when using SBS tips instead of hanging rack tips, without having to change carriers. Ability to integrate devices on multiple sides of instrument - below deck, rear, right side, etc. Tips available from multiple sources, not just Tecan.
Cons: Lack of documentation, particularly for API, VB.Net external code interface doesn’t include access to Excel. When you order from Tecan, it arrives in a bazillion cardboard boxes.


@MikeMueller: Some Hamilton compatible tip types are also available from 3rd party sources, e.g. from Ritter medical (may not count for CO- RE II)

I have only had experience with Venus and Hamilton STARlet.

We are in the process of bying a new robot (mainly LC-MS/MS analysis). We do both routine analysis (maybe a few hundres samples/week) and method developement.

From the opinions I read here and the discord channel, I get the impression that if the lab have a dedicated person for the automation, Hamilton would slightly be more flexibel than Tecan, given that the person know programming?

If you buy a Hamilton then you can program it in Python

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My understanding is the CO-RE I tips are off-patent now so there are 3rd party tips available. But I am also hearing that Hamilton service is in process of upgrading systems to CO-RE II which is on-patent and restricts availability of 3rd party tip options.