2017 | The Year of the Smart Lab

Now that 2017 resolutions have been made (and, perhaps, already broken), I’m going to go on record with the prediction that 2017 is going to be the year of the Smart Lab. From industrial and commercial sectors, to the smart home, smart technologies have made major inroads in every category except one — scientific research.

Transportation infrastructure is improving with delivery vehicles that have data-gathering technologies for route optimization and fuel efficiency. Industrial operations are leveraging sensor-based technologies to improve operations and production yields. In the home, smart lights, like BeON, can be used for security and more, while personal assistants like Alexa are quietly supporting our lives – when not arguing with each other. In all of these cases, AI and sensors are being used to augment our abilities and lessen the mundane tasks we have to do.

But what about the research environment? Scientific research forms the foundation of innovation and progress, and advancements in Smart Lab technology are critical to accelerating the pace of scientific discovery. As anyone who has worked in a lab knows all too well, there are a LOT of mundane and repetitive tasks that we need to do in research. The question for scientists and researchers is what we can learn from how “smart things” are being used in other industries and apply them to the lab?

Laboratory Information Systems (LIMS) systems and Electronic Lab Notebooks (ELNs) are being used, but typically provide basic data repositories rather than making the data useful. The very people who crave and use massive amounts of data the most have not benefitted from the ‘smart’ movement that effortlessly gathers meaningful data AND presents it in accessible and actionable ways. That is finally changing, and 2017 is the year. Here’s why:

  • Scientists love data. Smart labs exponentially increase the capability to gather LOTS of data – seamlessly.
  • Smart labs give scientists the ability to gather, synthesize and analyze large volumes of data about all variables in their work and find correlations and causations that were impossible to identify otherwise.
  • By taking the work out of data gathering, Smart labs let scientists focus on their actual research, rather than tedious data-gathering processes.
  • The ability to gather and synthesize new data streams will help address the massive repeatability crisis. According to a study conducted in 2016 by Nature Magazine, more than 70 percent of researchers have tried and failed to reproduce another scientist’s experiment, and 50 percent have also failed to reproduce the results of their own experiments. Access to meaningful data and the ability to easily analyze it will improve repeatability.
  • The technology stack that has transformed other sectors can be easily leveraged to solve the same problems in research..

At the end of the day, smart technologies are about providing new insights, new capabilities, and streamlining processes. What area could reap the benefits more than laboratories — across all sectors and industries — from academic to pharma, industrial to clinical and beyond. Here’s to making the prediction a reality.