February 12, 2021

WilderSystemsCovid 400x275The Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM) Institute has announced that one of its members, Wilder Systems, has created a robotic cell for testing potential COVID-19 samples. The cell 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 the technology.

The system helps address one of the biggest challenges in COVID-19 testing, which is the lack of sufficient personnel to analyze samples and provide test results. ARM said throughout 2020, Americans were turned away from testing centers due to limited laboratory capacity to analyze samples. Those fortunate enough to be tested had to often wait a week or more to learn their results, effectively making them useless. While equipment exists to complete the identification of nucleic acids from infective organisms at most hospitals and universities, there are not enough technicians to operate a full equipment capacity. By automating this process through robotics, the group hopes that more people will have access to testing, and the results of the tests can be made available sooner.

The project built a robotic test cell that includes 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, and the robotic system then processes it, with results quickly delivered. ARM said the entire system can be deployed at any lab, and continuously run test samples with minimal human involvement. A typical small lab can run about three cycles a day of 94 samples per an 8-hour shift, or 280 tests per day. The Wilder system can run continuously for 24 hours with minimal technician s supervision and run up to 2,000 samples per day with the same number of staff and PCR equipment, resulting in a 7x increase, ARM said.

“Robots are clearly being recognized as a highly valuable technology for COVID-19 remediation, be it in sanitation, personal protective equipment production, or testing,” said Ira Moskowitz, CEO of the ARM Institute. “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.”

The project also accomplished another major milestone: it was conceptualized, funded, developed, and delivered in less than five months. “The team did a tremendous job in executing the mission to rapidly test for COVID-19 with robotics, and at such a breakneck pace,” said Will Wilder, CEO of Wilder Systems. “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.”

As one of 16 Manufacturing USA institutes across the United States, the ARM Institute works on projects where people and robots work together to respond to the nation’s greatest challenges and develop and produce the world’s most desired projects. ARM operates as a national consortium of almost 300 member organizations, who are experts in manufacturing, robotics, and workforce education.

More details on the COVID-19 project can be found at the Wilder Systems website

(Editor's note: Photo credit - WIlder Systems)