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£600 robot revolutionises microbiology research – University of Reading

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£600 robot revolutionises microbiology research

Release Date 21 November 2019

POLIR robot


·         Raspberry PI-based kit helped lab test >10 times as many samples and saving hundreds of hours of hands-on time.


A robot designed and built for £600 using a Raspberry PI and a 3D printer has “revolutionised” a University of Reading lab testing antimicrobial resistance.

The team from the School of Chemistry, Food and Pharmacy developed the low cost device to provide high-resolution time-lapse imaging of microbiology tests which has allowed them to test 200 samples over a 3 day period without the need for a lab technician or PhD researcher to manually record the data.

In a paper published in PLOS One, the team describe POLIR (Raspberry Pi camera Open-source Laboratory Imaging Robot) which was developed to assess antibiotic resistance and the effect of milk concentration on bacterial growth. POLIR allowed the team to take 3480 samples and automate a test over 16 hours. Laboratory automation has become established in a few fields over the past decades but remains extremely expensive and highly specialised- most labs can’t justify the capital investment required. This study shows that lab automation can be built in-house. As well as automating data collection, this robot allows simple automation of data analysis, allowing production of the much larger data-sets that are now vital, but at an affordable price.

Dr Alexander Edwards, from the University of Reading said:

“We built the robot with a simple purpose, to make antimicrobial resistance testing more robust without resorting to expensive and highly specialised lab equipment. Through the development of POLIR, we hit upon the idea that by hacking existing open source designs -in this case was a Raspberry PI computer and a 3D printer - we could create something that avoids laborious manual experimental methods.

“The beauty of the POLIR kit is that it’s based on open source designs and we have likewise published our own designs and modifications, allowing everyone and anyone to benefit from the original design and the modifications in other contexts. We believe that open source hardware is a game changer that will revolutionise microbiological and other life science lab work by increasing data production whilst reducing hands-on labour time in the lab.”

Dr Sarah Needs, a Postdoctoral Research Associate in Microfluidic Antimicrobial Resistance Testing at the University of Reading said:

“Adapting simple, open-source designs has meant that I can get higher quality data with less hands-on time in the lab. We use this for taking images of our microfluidic experiments to follow bacterial growth. Using this design allows us to study over 400 microfluidic experiments at the same time, over multiple days if needed.

“One of the great things about the 3D printer that we used is that it is open-source, which meant that very little needed to be changed. As a biologist I don’t usually make my own lab equipment but was able to print the 3D parts and put this together easily.”

Full citation:

Needs, S.H., Diep, T.T., Bull, S.P., Edwards, A.D., 2019, Exploiting open source 3D printer architecture for laboratory robotics to automate high-throughput time-lapse imaging for analytical microbiology, PLOS One, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0224878


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