The Internet of Things Can Revamp Research & Development

June 10, 2020 - 7 minutes read

The progression of technology and scientific knowledge go hand-in-hand. We now live in an era of constant advancement in both fields. Fueled by unquenchable curiosity and machine-powered efficiency, we’re pushing the boundaries of what we know with every passing day.

Breakthroughs such as curing ailments with gene editing, bioprinting human organs, and making preventative medicine a reality are just some of the topics that consistently take over headlines. Each of these developments has the ability to significantly improve our lives.

But the unfortunate truth is that current paradigms do not support the optimization of research potential. As a result, discovery yield is skewed; some findings hold merit, while many others fall to the wayside after their promise fades. Numerous research papers are retracted while few endeavors go on to shape a better future for society.

Luckily, the Internet of Things (IoT) can address this. Implementing IoT development in the laboratory environment can bring a new level of efficiency to research and development (R&D). In the future, IoT’s data collection and automation capabilities will usher in the arrival of the smart lab.

The Issues With the Status Quo

Numerous barriers in laboratories obstruct scientific progress. They come in a variety of forms; human errors, lack of compliance, device malfunctions, and miscommunication name only a few.

Perhaps one of the biggest problems is manual recording of machine data output. This repetitive and time-intensive task is ripe for human mistakes to occur. Besides this possibility, data loss, an issue when a scientist is too selective about what to record, can also arise. Sometimes, researchers can’t decipher the information at hand or even the handwritten notes of their colleagues.

All of these issues mentioned do have one thing in common: a lack of connectivity, both between researchers and the equipment they employ. And if you’re an avid reader of our blog, then you know that nothing solves connectivity problems like IoT.

How IoT Overcomes These Obstacles

IoT can bring about a more effective, efficient way of conducting research experiments and collecting the resulting data. This technology can facilitate the connection of every element in the laboratory, from scales to centrifuges and everything in between. Machine output can be digitally transmitted via digital format, saving scientists hours of time and effort as well as eliminating the chance of human error.

With IoT, labs can connect all devices to the cloud or local server. This enables researchers to access and control experiments and processes anywhere, anytime (as long as they have an internet connection). If a scientist from the Bay area is visiting Boston, for example, then they can check in on their operations and developments in San Francisco remotely to ensure that everything’s running smoothly.

In the laboratory, IoT can take on various forms. Automation will be one of the most common examples. Automating all lab equipment, even down to material containers, can unlock unparalleled productivity. Currently, this is an expensive route to go, leaving it only available to successful industry lab facilities. As with other technologies, the price should diminish substantially in the future.

IoT Adoption Is on the Rise

Despite steep costs, the adoption of IoT in the laboratory setting has seen an abundant increase in demand. This is most readily apparent in industrial R&D; the need to compete in the global market means the benefits of IoT easily offset any expensive price tag.

Alongside this demand growth, our society in general has pivoted more towards digital solutions and an emphasis on easier access to data in recent years. And, as in consumer markets, IoT implementation brings numerous advantages to R&D, such as seamless experiment execution, more accurate data documentation, and more accessible research findings.

It’s no surprise that those working in R&D want to experience the same convergence of our digital and physical worlds that consumers around the world are now privy to. With that said, IoT will eventually give rise to the smart lab.

The Future of Laboratories

Everyone has heard of smart homes and smart cities. Both are made possible by a mixture of IoT and artificial intelligence (AI). Similar to these concepts, the smart lab simply refers to connecting all laboratory machines and sensors to the internet.

By controlling all of these devices externally, researchers can execute experiments with unprecedented speed and precision. The application of machine learning (ML) and AI technology further streamlines these benefits and enables far easier data documentation than what researchers contend with today. Connecting every lab tool in this way allows for a smart environment where machines can both predict experiment outcomes and produce hypotheses based on these findings.

With a drastic reduction in the amount of human intervention required, researchers will be freer to dedicate time to more important initiatives. And as all data is stored in the cloud, they can rest assured knowing no research will be lost. Collectively, these advantages will accelerate scientific development.

A Smarter, More Connected Future for Science

With a strong emphasis on efficiency, compliance, and precision, the laboratory environment is the perfect place for IoT integration. IoT-enabled devices could considerably increase both productivity and discovery yield.

Science is governed by a stringent set of principles. Yet, today, many researchers struggle with ensuring their work is FAIR ( findable, accessible, interoperable, and replicable). IoT and smart labs will change this by ushering in a new era for R&D — one that will continue to reshape and improve research for years to come.

What do you think of IoT’s future in R&D? Do you think there are any valid concerns about implementing this technology in this field? Or do the pros greatly outweigh the cons? As always, let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

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